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Despite recent crashes, officials say metro Phoenix light rail safety system works

[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic] — A central Phoenix accident last week marked the 13th collision between a Metro light-rail train and another vehicle since the system opened three months ago, renewing safety concerns about trains in streets.  Last Tuesday’s crash puts Metro on pace to almost double the first-year accident rate of Houston, where light rail earned a reputation as the “Wham Bam Tram,” though Houston has a third less track than the Valley.  The latest collision happened when a motorist began an illegal U-turn at a red light near Central High School, police said.

An analysis of police reports shows an early pattern: illegal turns and confused drivers causing accidents.  To date, no light-rail operator has been faulted and none has failed drug or alcohol tests.  Only one accident has raised questions about whether Metro equipment was working properly.

The record tells Metro officials they’ve learned from Houston’s mistakes and have engineered safe trains and traffic signals.  “I don’t think anything has occurred yet that says we’ve had a flawed design,” Metro Chief Executive Officer Rick Simonetta said.  But the sheer number of accidents since the Dec. 27 opening has fueled the ire of light-rail critics, who had warned that trains and cars sharing streets would lead to problems.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Valley students could be among biggest light-rail users

[Source: Arizona Republic] — Some of the biggest users of the light rail are expected to be students, and along the light-rail line there are more than 20 schools, from preschools through colleges.  Light rail played a role in Phoenix School of Law relocating to its central Phoenix location near the intersection of Indian School and Central Avenue.  Student and faculty members alike say they plan to take the rail.

Alicia Togno, the law school’s assistant dean for administration, says she will encourage students to take rail to take the stress out of commuting.  “It is a time to gear up or decompress depending on when you are traveling,” she said.  She plans to take it daily from her home in the Willo district.

Dan Johnson, 21, a first-year law student, is from Chicago and is used to taking the elevated train there.  He lives in Tempe and plans to ride his bike to the station at Apache Boulevard and McClintock Drive.  It takes him 35 minutes to drive and he considers that wasted time. Taking light rail might not save him any time, but on the train he’ll be able to read, he says. The law school is discussing subsidizing some of the costs and that would be a financial benefit, he said.  “It would be nice to say money on gas and wear and tear on my car,” he said.

Down the street, Central High School now pays for bus passes for students and will pay for light-rail passes. The stop is on Central across from the school.  Click here to view a Community Walk map on schools along metro Phoenix light rail