Metro Transit: The most dangerous LRT system in America?

This post originally appeared at katana community on January 24, 2019.

This last Friday you may have seen a story on KARE11 or KSTP about how a Metro Transit Light Rail Transit (LRT) driver killed Nicholas Westlake in July 2017 when the train’s driver blew through a clear stop signal and broadsided Westlake’s car.  Representative Linda Runbeck of Circle Pines is now introducing a bill in the Minnesota House that would allow criminal charges to be brought against LRT drivers in such situations, as state law currently disallows this.(!) I recommend you  watch the stories to get the full details.

But the detail I want to talk about today is the fact that the 2017 fatality is just one part of a deeply troubling trend at the Met Council’s Metro Transit division. Specifically, according to my analysis of data from the National Transportation DatabaseMetro Transit’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) system is the least safe system of any of its self-selected peer transit systems. 

For instance, as the attached charts show, Metro Transit’s multi-billion dollar light rail (LRT) system has by far the overall worst safety record of any of its (self-selected) peer systems.

Drill down into the NTD data, and since the launch of the system’s second LRT service (the Green Line) in 2014, Metro Transit LRT has had the most collisions, the most safety events, and the most injuries per million train miles of any of its peer transit systems across the country. The only one out of four safety factors in which Metro Transit LRT is not in last place, is fatalities per million train miles – with a less than stellar 7th place finish out of 10 systems.

In fact, Metro Transit’s relative performance is so bad, it is just 3 points shy of the worst possible sum of rankings for safety performance, scoring 37 of 40 points.  By comparison, Denver’s LRT system twice finishes in 1st place, and twice in 2nd place for a laudable overall score of 6 out of 40.*

A final part to this story is that earlier this month, Governor Tim Walz installed a new chairwoman atop the Met Council, Nora Slawik. In a move that appears to have puzzled the editors of the Star Tribune, Slawik then quickly ousted the long-time leader of Metro Transit, Brian Lamb.  On January 24th the Star Tribune  wrote:

His “track record makes the opaque nature of Lamb’s exit puzzling to several people directly involved in Twin Cities transit who spoke to an editorial writer. While each offered different perspectives on Lamb being replaced, all agreed that his departure comes at a critical time for Metro Transit…”

But given Metro Transit’s safety record, perhaps it IS in fact a good time for new leadership?

*I rank each city compared to its peer, by category, and assign it the number of points that correspond to its rank – e.g. an 8th place finish earns a city 8 points. A lower score is better.  ​The list of peer cities was defined by the Met Council in 2018, as the agency sought to allay citizens’ fears regarding the then proposed operation of the Green Line extension in a shared rail corridor.