A man walking along the tracks in St. Paul was struck by a train last week (September 9), during the middle of the day. That was the third accident involving light rail trains in 10 days. Already, a 21-year-old woman was struck and killed near the Dale Street station in St. Paul, and a 53-year-old man was killed while on his bike along Hiawatha Avenue. The woman was struck and killed in the middle of the day, while the biker was killed at dusk.
Reports suggested that the accident on September 9 wasn’t fatal, though the full extent of the man’s injuries are not yet known.
According to MPR News, using data from Metro Transit, light rail accidents involving pedestrians alone have injured an average of 7 persons per year since 2014, and killed an average of 1.7 persons per year since 2014.
This poor safety record is concerning. In fact, if you calculate how many passengers cars carry versus light rail, light rail is much more dangerous—not necessarily to those on board, but to the pedestrians, bikers, and automobiles around the train, because of the size difference. But large busses, which follow the rules of the road, are about as safe as automobiles.
And Minnesota’s light rail system has particular problems, as it is rated one of the least-safe light rail systems in the country.
That’s emblematic of the problems the light rail system has had since the get-go. The “Blue Line” was meant to cost $400 million, but ended up costing over $700 million, with the federal government picking up just over $300 million of the tab. Since opening in 2004, the Blue Line has experienced 15 deaths.
Opened in 2014, the Green Line has already killed 8 people. This line, as it exists today, cost around $1 billion. The Green Line’s fares each year cover only 35 percent of expenses to run the trains, though that is better than the Blue Line.
Now, the Green Line is to be expanded to the southwest metro area. The Green Line expansion is projected to cost at least $2 billion, up from an estimated cost of $1.3 billion several years ago. No doubt, by the time the expansion is completed, the project will exceed even the $2 billion estimate. Construction is already beginning, though, and will shut down the popular Kenilworth trail and part of the Greenway, both trails in the uptown and St. Louis Park areas.
Who decides all this? The Met Council, of course, which can make decisions that supersede the wishes of local elected officials. The Council was created in the 1960s by the Minnesota Legislature, and is stocked with appointees by each governor who must be confirmed by the Minnesota Senate.
That can get anti-democratic, as the decisions of those Met Council members isn’t subject to a direct check by the voters.
And in general, the Met Council hasn’t done a very good job “planning” Minneapolis and St. Paul’s transportation. There is little reason to think that the new light rail construction will make the Met Council’s poor track record any better.
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