Gene Maryushenko of the Los Angeles injury firm Fisher & Talwar is becoming a regular contributor here. This is his latest article:
When I read Bob’s post on new safety standards for urban transit systems, I thought – well, great! Finally, some sort of federal regulation will exist to enforce the most basic safety oversight. In a nation as large and developed as ours it’s amazing that there are no official safety guidelines in place. It took a tragic accident that killed 9 people on a Metro line to finally push for a safety bill. I even started thinking about how some day we might have seat belts on a train – after all cars have them, so why shouldn’t trains? It didn’t quite click in my mind that my way of thinking about this issue was completely wrong.
Later that evening, on my commute home I tuned in to a radio station that was running a program on how the Bus Riders Union is planning to protest cutbacks of over a million hours of bus services in L.A. Listening to the program made me stop and think – if the government is willing to throw (insufficient) funds at safety programs for railroads, why wouldn’t it just restore service for buses instead? After all, thousands of people rely on bus services who otherwise have no access to trains.
At that time I also remembered what I’ve read about the safety bill:
“Among other things, the NTSB will push for minimum crashworthiness standards for subway cars, a requirement that subways carry data recorders and limits on the number of hours that train conductors can work.”
Minimum crashworthiness standards? Why wouldn’t we focus on eliminating crashes entirely? If we look at the history of train accidents in the United States, most if not all were caused by human error. Here I am thinking about which seat is the safest on a train and contemplating seatbelt use while completely ignoring the obvious – eliminate the issue of train crashes entirely. Why dedicate funds to establish “better evacuation and rescue plans” instead of focusing on completely eradicating the safety problem?
During several trips to Japan I couldn’t help but marvel at their transportation system, how efficient, punctual and safe the trains ran. Any country in the world would be envious to have a similar safety record as that of the Japanese rail system. Sure they’ve had a few snags along the way but if we compared the number of hours to the number of accidents – the record is nearly immaculate.
It turns out the Japanese rail system uses an automated safety mechanism known as Positive Train Control (PTC) – a GPS based system that allows for automatic monitoring and reaction to railway, weather and traffic conditions. According to gps.gov, “A PTC system can automatically vary train speeds, re-route traffic, and safely direct maintenance crews onto and off tracks.” It also turns out United States has a federal mandate to make commuter railroads implement this system by 2015!
Reading about the PTC system plan lead me conclude that safety bills should instead direct the funds to bus system development or at the very last resort to accelerate the implementation of the GPS-based system (to avoid passing the cost to the passengers.) I would personally complain about the cost of some rail passes as I purchase them month to month, but after hearing about the bus issues I would rather see the government direct funds to maintaining and expanding the bus fleet around the populous cities in the United States.
With the ever-increasing urbanization of our cities as the world population grows, it will be important for our country to bring our infrastructure up to date. Even though trains are useful to the masses of suburbs, we can’t ignore the fact that it is impossible to connect all of the cities with rail systems alone. Buses can and already have been solving our commuting problems for years and should be expanded heavily, or at the very least maintained.
Lastly, this morning I took my own advice and sat in my “preferred” seat only to feel awkwardly uncomfortable and moving to another front-facing seat with plenty of leg room. There is no doubt I would bounce around like a lottery ball in an event of an accident, but let’s face it – there are bigger problems to worry about, AND not to mention the Positive Train Control system is coming to my line sometime next year!