Train’s collision with car unavoidable, official says

Train’s collision with car unavoidable, official says

William Huntington


by STEVE HARRISON / Charlotte Observer

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 9:50 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 2 at 9:06 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte Area Transit System said Thursday that the Lynx Blue Line has a strong safety record and that Wednesday night’s collision between a light-rail train and a car was unavoidable.

Wednesday’s crash happened around 8:40 p.m. when the driver of a car stopped on Remount Road near South Boulevard, according to police. The crossing arms were down at the light-rail tracks, and the driver was waiting for the train to clear.

A Jeep then rear-ended the car, pushing it onto the tracks and into the side of the northbound train.

Seven people – three from the vehicles and four from the train – were taken to area hospitals. Four people had injuries described as serious but not life threatening. The others had less serious injuries.

The Jeep’s driver, 28-year-old William Parshall Huntington of Charlotte, was charged with driving while impaired and reckless driving.

CATS said the light-rail line’s safety system was working as planned. The crossing guard arms that seal off intersections are only designed to be visual warnings and couldn’t have stopped the car once it had been rammed by the Jeep.

“All warning devices were working in the area,” said Bryan Leaird, CATS manager of safety and security.

Since the transit system opened in November 2007, CATS said there have been six accidents involving trains and vehicles or pedestrians.

Leaird said the light-rail line was designed with extensive safety features that have kept accidents to a minimum.

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised (at the few accidents),” Leaird said. “We have had extensive training for our operators. There are safety systems that other (light-rail lines) chose not to use.”

CATS said there have been five other unavoidable accidents:

•  A car driver drove around a crossing arm and hit a train in February 2008 at the Clanton Road crossing.

•  At the Old Pineville Road crossing, a car driver drove around a crossing arm and hit a train in April 2009.

•  In March 2010, another car driver drove around the crossing arm at the East/West Boulevard crossing and hit a train.

•  In September and November 2011, two pedestrians walked in front of a train at the Scaleybark station and were hit.

CATS said it doesn’t have data to compare its train’s safety record with other systems.

When Houston’s light-rail line opened last decade, it was known initially as the “Wham-Bam-Tram” for the high number of crashes with cars. The train had roughly 50 crashes with cars in its first year.

Houston’s train is a combination of streetcar and light-rail line, which means it often runs in the middle of a street.

Charlotte’s Lynx Blue Line is grade-separated for much of its 9.6 miles. That means that it crosses streets by bridge, eliminating the possibility of car-train crashes. However, north of the Woodlawn station, the light-rail line operates at ground-level and uses crossing arms at intersections. All of the accidents happened in that general area.