Light-rail safety around America: how does Seattle stack up?

Despite operating 6 miles of surface tracks, with 37 grade crossings where people, cars and goods mix with trains, Sound Transit is safer than many light-rail systems across the country. Nevertheless there is scope for improvement.

Based on Federal Transit Administration (FTA) data, Seattle-area trains on Sound Transit’s Line 1 were involved in collisions 92 times in 2015–2021, approximately once per month. Of the 22 light-rail systems, there were 21 injuries and deaths, placing sound transit in 15th place. (Greeley Tribune counts FTA data for collisions with pedestrians and vehicles on tracks, excluding people aboard trains or station platforms, transit workers, and some low-damage accidents.)

By comparison, there were 629 accidents in Houston, where 80 road and driveway crossings lead to conflict. The Los Angeles Metro reported 151 injuries and deaths, but trains on LA’s four routes crashed less per mile than Seattle’s single line.

To be sure, the country’s 531 light-rail accidents in 2019 do not compare with the 6.8 million motor-vehicle accidents and 36,096 road accidents reported to the police that year. Light-rail trains provide a small portion of US trips, but have more collisions per mile than private cars, usually at road crossings.

Sound Transit proposes new design standards that declare, “future grade pedestrian track crossings should be avoided wherever possible.” A 2024 extension to Federal Way and Lynwood is being constructed off-road, while trains to Bellevue will cross three streets east of the city.

Here’s what some cities tried:

Tookos angeles

The new Crenshaw Line south of the airport does not open until late 2022, but the agency is already a . has agreed to replace Boulevard Crossing in Nearby Inglewood and an overhead trestle for $150 million in 2026 to prevent overcrowding and accidents around new stadiums. 2028 Olympic Games,

Ten intersections along the Crenshaw Line are equipped with red light enforcement cameras, mango in LA Metro,

portland

In 2019 Oregon lawmakers established a unique Tri-Mate Crash Advisory Committee on the encouragement of Darla Sturdy, whose 16-year-old son was hit by a train while cycling in suburban Gresham in 2003. She says the Oregonian was implicated long ago with the intent of a “transit-industrial complex” to gain public money.

“They must have an incredible safety record,” Sturdy said. “They’re not because of the operator, it’s because of the design.”

The committee has focused on multiple-accident locations where Tri-Mate could consider slower road speeds and better signals, says chairman Scott Kochhar. In addition, more homeless people are walking on tracks from camps where Tri-Mate has installed new fences, but a long-term solution is needed, Kochhar said.

Tri-Mate is researching how Identify the most useful crossing improvements The focus is on pedestrians, spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt said. FTA says it awarded $825,506 for $1.1 million project despite 2025Featuring new cameras and video analysis to look for “a measurable reduction in deaths and injuries at light-rail crossings”.

Portland’s unique Tillicum Bridge over the Willamette River for transit, pedestrians and cyclists added a traffic-free mile of corridor in 2015. Tri-Mate conducted a study $4.5 Billion Downtown Tunnel To increase speed and capacity compared to the slower surface trains of downtown.

houston

Houston Metro nickname was given “Wham Bum” Train During startup in 2004, and its current 22-mile network there are an average of 90 crashes per year. These basic track vehicles are found along the left-turn lane as well as the driveway near the Texas Medical Center.

To reduce debris, Metro has tried blue and red stripes on trains, and signals that give trains a head start before other traffic. Warning lights in the pavement reduced dangerous car turns, but a contractor couldn’t hire them,

However, the city is still making compromises to avoid reducing car capacity. As recently as 2015, Houston built more “shared lanes” for a new downtown light-rail line.

pittsburgh

Port Authority light-rail trains rarely collide, on average five times per year.

“The fact that our system is relatively slow, and also slow at crossings, certainly plays a role,” said spokesman Adam Brandolph. Grade-crossing speeds are 10–15 mph, compared to cruising speeds of 30–35 mph.

Trains may avoid conflict in the city with the 118-year-old Mount Washington Tunnel and a new Allegheny River Tunnel, but share 14 miles of crossing or surface roads.

Brandolph said neighbors know what to expect because the trains use a nearly century-old trolley corridor. If two trains interconnect they automatically stop because their old power supply can only propel one.

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