Wham, Bam, Rail Slam. Houston’s Rail Crashes Instructive for Pinellas Light Rail

Pinellas citizens, prepare for a new phenomenon if Greenlight Pinellas passes in November: a large number of routine rail on car crashes. But don’t ask PSTA to inform voters with their $800,000 taxpayer funded “education campaign” about this risk or the history of rail/car crashes in Houston beginning in 2004. Houston installed a rail system that will be very similar to important parts of the Greenlight plan. Namely, “modern streetcars” or light rail “trains” will be running right down the middle of the road alongside cars in many parts of the train line. Affected will be Eastbay and West Bay Drives in Largo, Court Street, Myrtle Street and Roosevelt Blvd in Clearwater, and Haines Road and 62nd Ave N. in St. Pete as well as 1st Avenues N. and S.. The plan will place cars about 6 feet away from the trains travelling down East Bay/West Bay  route which will also be crossing multiple intersections. The Houston experience serves as a warning of what to expect as rail/car crashes come to Pinellas: avoidable injuries, taxpayer funded personal injury lawsuit payouts, more traffic congestion and more hassle.

After Houston opened its train service along an eight mile stretch (exclusively in the downtown area), there were dozens of rail on car crashes. in the first two years of operation, there was a crash nearly every twelve days! In early 2009 the 245th collision occurred since opening in 2004 and set an annual record for rail/car crashes at 69! Cars would turn in front of trains. Even Busses have run red lights directly into trains. In 2008, the city had to alter the timing of traffic signals to favor the train, further slowing cars and increasing congestion.  The Sun Beam Times will be offering detailed analysis on the street level changes Pinellas citizens can expect if the 24 mile, St. Pete to Clearwater, $2.6 billion train project is approved in November.  For those who can’t wait, here is the report from PSTA showing the planned train routes. This blog remains convinced that citizens should reject the 14% sales tax rate hike and ask PSTA to do a better job with their current budget to run a better bus system.  Below is a preview of some of the changes to expect along East Bay/West Bay Drive with Greenlight Pinellas. Meet the endless construction project, slower traffic harrowing drives next to trains and intersections always in danger of a train showing up. 

An example of car lanes giving way to train tracks on East Bay Drive. Multiple intersections will be crossed and cars will be about 6 feet away from trains.

An example of car lanes giving way to train tracks on East Bay Drive. Multiple intersections will be crossed and cars will be about 6 feet away from trains.



Notice how East Bay will need to be widened 16 feet. Will property owners be compensated. Are you looking forward to driving right next to the train on one side and bike lane on the other side of East Bay? On EAST BAY?

Notice how East Bay will need to be widened 16 feet. Will property owners be compensated. Are you looking forward to driving right next to the train on one side and bike lane on the other side of East Bay? On EAST BAY?


9 Replies:

  1. Westech

    To widen East/West Bay (a roadway that was widened several years ago) and other major roads will cost literally hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s not a matter of widening its infringement of property rights, construction that puts business into bankruptcy, disruption of roadways for at least a decade., and here’s one nobody considers, relocation of buried, underground and aerial utilities. Fresh and reclaimed water lines, telephone and gas lines, sewer lines and the big one, power lines. This cost major money and takes years to engineer & complete.
    In addition the State of Florida is the controlling entity when it comes to State road construction. If the State doesn’t want you to tear up the road, it’s a slog getting permission.

  2. Ron Thompson

    I love anectdotes! They always support my claim. But they dont stand up to simple questioning.

    So 245 car-train collisions in 5 short years. Do these include scratches & dents or only undrivable cars and deaths? The natural conclusion is the second.

    In 5 years, how many car-car crashes occurred? How many dents and how many injuries? How many car-bus, car-police, car-ambulance, and car-garbage truck “crashes” occurred?

    People commonly use the word “accident” or “fender-bender” for minor, low cost, small damage, no injury, vehicle collisions. The word “crash” is commonly reserved for undrivable or totalled vehicles or injuries and death. To say “there were 245 CRASHES” carries with it an implication, by the nuance of word selection, a significantly more serious and extraordinary situation than occurred in Houston.

    To defeat NTFT requires only “informing” voters of the the same facts NTFT brings up, but using neutral language. Voters quickly understand NTFT tries to wrap fear within their facts, rather than letting the voter make up their own mind.

    1. Sun Beam Times Post author

      good question Ron. Let’s clarify. The number of crashes that occurred up to 2009 alone was exactly 245 more and what if it occurred without the train at all.
      by your line of reasoning it sounds like there is acceptable collateral damage as long as you can build a train right down the middle of a major street.

      1. Ron Thompson

        I feel quite the opposite. One car-car crash id too many for me, especially if it causes injury or death. But Houston drivers are shown running red lights, cutting left in front of oncoming cars, slamming on brakes. While car-train collisions went from zero before the train to 49 per year after, no data on car-car collisions before or after are given. Drivers that bad will hit trains, cars, pedestrians, ice cream trucks, and traffic horses. From what I saw it had nothing to do with trains.

        That makes the 245 number an anectdote.There is nothing to compare it to. Also, the TV reporter clearly said that Houston has the worst driver safety record in the country for rail collisions. Also, I did not see any data about their car-bus statistics, before and after the trollys were installed.

        1. Sun Beam Times Post author

          Well Ron, you can’t ignore the fact that there will be crashes of cars and trains together that would not have happened. They will also lead to lawsuits that the taxpayers must pay for.

          Now, I will make you a deal, Ron. If you will go to the trouble of analyzing the accident data from Houston and sharing all your raw data with me, I will publish a write up of that data on the Sun Beam Times. If you are unwilling to do this level of research, then perhaps you should reconsider the “bomb-throwing” approach.

  3. Fred

    It is interesting that I was commenting recently on the train-car crashes that will be forthcoming if the light rail is built. There will be cars trying to beat the trains through intersections, and just like those who try to beat the gate at the CSX crossings. They will find out that the train is much heavier, and does not stop readily. There would also be injuries on the trains when the incidents occur, if anyone is riding them. Light rail is a bad idea no matter how you look at it.

  4. Matt

    That is just absurd, traffic along East Bay is bad enough as it is. Where will the land for the extra space for these trains come from. There are some stores that are only 20 or so feet from the roadway now since it has been widened.

    Crashes aside, as we know we’ll have them – heck Bay Drive kills more pedestrians than any street in the county – who wants to go from downtown Clearwater to the St. Pete Clearwater Airport to downtown St. Petersburg? What about people in Countryside, Palm Harbor Tarpon Springs, they have to drive to The SuperPower building on Fort Harrison, the Dolphin Tale exhibit or the airport and park to get a train to Janus Landing.

    There is no nice way to put it, the idea is stupid.


    Re: Ron Thompson’s points: Even if Thompson’s points were right on the money …and they are not… he leaves out the huge cost of the system that has added to the crash stats for Houston. Of course they had accidents before. And I’m sure the rail salesmen in Houston included increased safety in the mix as they sold their plans, just like it is being done here. The 900 pound gorilla in this room is the BILLIONS of dollars being spent for a very risky venture. It is risky to our money, our jobs, our fragile senior citizens, and our children while traveling to and from school.

    Houston made the wrong choice. Let us be forewarned by it.

  6. Westech

    Before the first politician can have their picture taken boarding their choo-choo train the citizens have to hoodwinked into voting for this foolishness. IF this stupidity were to happen then here’s the timeline.
    Certain properties will have to be bought, acquired or confiscated by Eminent Domain. Results. Lawsuits that will have to be settled.
    Buried and underground utilities must be moved, replaced or relocated. This is unbelievably costly and the utilities won’t do this work for free. First the contract has to be signed with costs and over-runs established, then the job engineered, materials ordered and completed. Best guess? 5-7 years.
    Road widening????? In the words of SpongeBob SquarePants, “Good luck with that.” Look at present road construction; Ulmerton Rd, Belcher Rd, Starkey Rd. Brian Dairy Rd. U.S. 19 etc. There’w 10 more years.
    NOW we start to build the choo-choo train…….but wait. We need more money.
    PSTA, Greenlight Pinellas and the rest of the politicians can wish for their train all they want but the fact is, wishing and wanting won’t build the square root of zero.
    End game: A decade and a half down the road, when billions are spend and the jobs still not done, the cry goes out, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???
    Stupid is stupid, be it the actions of a spoiled child or a self-important politician. The train is stupid.
    Were this train idiocy flushed down the sewer where it belongs and an intelligent bus transportation system created by thinking adults perhaps there would be some acceptance.
    As an aside what I find most representative of a group of self-important, self-aggrandizing politicians is the characterization by Ron Thompson of an accident or fender-bender as a “minor, low-cost, small damage, no injury, vehicle collision” Really, Ron? Let ’em eat cake? Your precious train causes a “minor, low-cost, small damage, no injury, vehicle collision?” I’m sure it’s below you to consider the, at best, “inconvenience” this has inflicted on the vehicle owner.
    In a nutshell, the individual be damned, oniy the public good, as we determine it, shall prevail.
    This, THIS is the attitude of the average Pinellas “public servant”

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