Train Operator Comments

In response to an item I included under news, about a car being struck when it turned in front of a light rail train, the operator of the train sent me an e-mail explaining his position. The message also has some interest information about train operation and safety procedures. The message follows (some identifying information has been deleted):

TRAIN HITS CAR IN RAINIER BEACH (Sunday, January 24, 2010) - Today the driver of a car driving north on Martin Luther King Way South made a left turn at South Merton Street, apparently unaware of a northbound light rail train approaching from behind. The operator of the train foresaw the impending collision and was stopping the train, but the train hit the car at a fairly low speed. There were no injuries, except to the car. My opinion: it couldn't have happened with a monorail.


My name is John, and I was the operator of the light rail train involved in the accident. I can give you the pertinent details of the Accident Evaluation Notice I received, so that you will know that I am who I say I am, and to add information that was apparently not included in your source information. I imagine this is a matter of public record for those seeking such information, so i don't believe I am disclosing anything privileged.

The driver of the car made an illegal left turn on a red left turn arrow, and while the LRV light next to the traffic signal was flashing. The train had a proceed signal. Our signals can't be mistaken for traffic control signals, because our proceed or "go" signal is white (or lunar), and our stop signal is amber. Neither the driver of the car nor her two children riding in the back seat were injured, although the car was undriveable due to damage to the left front wheel area. No one on the train was injured. In talking with me, the driver of the car told me she was from Auburn. She did not say what her destination was, only that she made a wrong turn somewhere, and she was making a u-turn to go back the way she came. She said she felt she was sitting at the light an unusually long time, and that she thought it must be stuck or broken, so she said she looked and saw no cars coming, so she started her turn... and the rest is history.

Our speed limit for trains on MLK is the same as posted for vehicular traffic, 35mph. While cars can exceed the speed limit, our trains cannot, as they are governed at that speed. An overspeed will stop the train if the operator doesn't immediately take measures to slow the train after receiving both a visual and audible warning. As a matter of course, I always slow the train approximately 5mph or more below the speed limit when approaching an intersection with cars waiting in the left turn lane, sort of a pre-emptive measure in the event a car does begin to turn left in front of the train. Reading a driver's intentions by looking at the attitude of the car sitting in the turn lane helps... are the cars wheels turned? Are they over the crosswalk? Are the brake lights flickering? Is there oncoming traffic, or not? Even though the driver has a red light, I've seen them take the left turn anyway! These so-called accidents are NOT accidents... They are due to the willful, negligent, or ignorant actions of the motorists. NONE, I repeat, NONE of our LRV/motor vehicle collisions (or LRV/pedestrian collisions for that matter) to date have been the fault of the LRV operator. It irritates me when members of the public place general blame on light rail for the so-called accidents.

Here's my opinion. I like monorails just fine, and I like light rail just fine. Either option would have worked for me. Expense argument notwithstanding (because it does cost more for elevated trackway), the people in the neighborhoods of South Seattle did not want an elevated trackway bisecting their neighborhoods. They also didn't want a bunch of flashing red lights and rail crossing guard arms at every crossing because they didn't want their neighborhoods looking like a freight corridor. I can understand their rationale. There are going to be accidents where vehicles/pedestrians interact with trains. Education of the public regarding safety when driving or walking near the rails is the only way to reduce the risks.

Thanks, John [last name deleted]

King County Metro Transit Safety Accident Evaluation Notice

Operator Name: John ****
Operator Badge Number: ****
Base/Work Location: Link Light Rail Operations Accident Reports
Accident Report Number: 2010LR****
Accident Occured On: 1/24/2010 5:48:00 PM at: Martin L King Jr Way S and Merton Way S
Coach: ****
Classification: 312 - LRV - Vehicle on Right turns Left
Int codes: i - Police Investigation
          l - Light Rail Accident
          z - LRV - Applied Maximum Brake (MXB)
This accident has been judged and recorded on your record as: Non Preventable

Reason: Operator of vehicle two intentionally disobeyed traffic control signal.
The definition of a Non Preventable Accident:
A Non-Preventable accident is any occurrence in which the driver/operator in question exercised every reasonable precaution to prevent the occurrence.

My response to John’s e-mail is as follows:

Dear Mr. ****,

Thank you very much for your e-mail.

My source of information was an article in the Seattle Times. I presumed that the fault was that of the car driver, but this was not stated in the article and I could not embellish the article with my presumption. I feel it was clear in my item that you were not at fault, and I even said in the item that you "foresaw the impending collision and was stopping the train ... "

It is obvious that there are careless, stupid, and reckless car drivers that are going to disobey signs, signals, and warnings and get clobbered, due to no fault whatsoever of the train operator. So this woman was from Auburn [a small city several miles south of Seattle] and may have been unfamiliar with the situation on Martin Luther King Way, but ... duh! ... are those train tracks there just for decoration? When she's in Auburn does she go across the BNSF tracks without looking to see if a train is coming? Amtrak, Sounder, and freight trains go a lot faster and are [a] lot heavier than light rail trains.

My point on my web site is to argue in favor of monorail instead of surface light rail in urban areas. My purpose in pointing out these light rail accidents is definitely not to blame operators, but rather to point out that no matter how stupid, reckless, careless, or drunk the driver of a car may be, he or she is not going to get hit by a monorail train because it passes overhead.

As for light rail in Rainier Valley, there was a strong campaign by many people in Rainier Valley for an underground light rail line. This of course would have cost much more. I think a monorail would have been a better choice. Given a choice between underground light rail and an elevated monorail, I think most Rainer Valley residents would have preferred underground light rail. But given a choice between surface light rail and elevated monorail, I think they would have opted for monorail.

As for my opinion for light rail, I like it. I have ridden Link as far from downtown as the station near Rainier and MLK Way [Martin Luther King Jr. Way], and enjoyed it. I am planning to take [it] all the way to the airport and back when I have time. But I still think monorail would have been a better choice.

May I have permission to put your e-mail on my web site, with a link from the item about the accident? If so, would you want me to hide certain personal information, such as your name, operator number, etc.? Or for your name just put "John"?

Thank you,
Bob Fleming

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