Houston Metro to make safety upgrades after recent crashes

After recent wrecks that resulted in the death of two people, the Houston Metro rail system is in the process of making major changes to ensure safety for pedestrians, passengers and train operators.

HOUSTON - After two deadly wrecks between MetroRail trains and bikes within a month, the head of Houston Metro says the agency is putting in place measures to keep it from happening again. 

Jerome Gray, Vice President and Senior Press Officer for Metro, tells KHOU 11 there were 108 collisions involving Metro light rail vehicles in 2016.

Gray also detailed how those numbers stack up when compared to Metro’s “closest peer agencies” during that same year: Phoenix Valley Metro Rail had 40 collisions, Sacramento Regional Transit had 37, and Santa Clara VTA had 22. 

KHOU 11 researchers also found Houston Metro has had more wrecks in the last two years than any light rail system in the country.

Data from the Federal Transit Administration on all 23 light rail systems nationwide shows that between January 2016 through October 2016, the 21 agencies that had wrecks involving light rail trains averaged 19.2 collisions.

Tom Lambert, Metro’s CEO, said Friday that “nothing is off the table” as the agency makes big safety changes to its rail system. 

Lambert says trains recently began using a louder horn when approaching intersections and platforms. Trains have already begun getting red and blue reflective tape on the front and sides to make them more visible day and night, with all trains eventually getting the tape. 

Lambert says the agency will also keep the red Super Bowl wraps on 11 trains and wrap two more next week with a similar red wrap featuring the words “Stop Look Listen.” 

Long-term, Lambert said they’re considering anything and everything, including fencing, barriers, painted crosswalks, and even re-designing entire intersections.

They’re also looking at cities with similar systems to see what works.

“We’ve talked to Phoenix, we talked to Santa Clara, we’ve talked to San Jose,” said Lambert. “If you look at it from the standpoint, those that are most similar to us, we’re talking to them to see if we can learn from them.”

On Thursday, officials from Metro, Rice, the Medical Center, Bike Houston, and the City of Houston all went to the Hermann Park/Rice University MetroRail stop to brainstorm safety upgrades.

The stop was where a Rice professor was struck and killed by a train while riding her bike on February 3.

“I think about the subway system in Washington D.C.” said John Long, Executive Director of Bike Houston, who was part of that group. “They have lights embedded in the ground that light up when a train is coming into the station. Could some signalization like that work here in Houston at the light rail platforms and crossing?”

Metro has also released a new public service announcement urging people to take out their headphones, look both ways, and obey traffic signals near stations. 

Metro has also put new “stop, look, and listen” posters at stations, and Rice’s Kinder Institute is studying near-misses involving pedestrians and cyclists with all vehicles. 

Lambert says there’s no cost estimate available yet for possible upgrades. However, he said the agency will be listing all of the ideas from Thursday’s trip and writing down the pros and cons, as well as a possible cost, for each item. 

Lambert also says going forward, they’ll be briefing the board monthly on their progress.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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