Soucheray’s Close Call a Reminder of Light Rail Danger on Days Like This

Columnist and radio host Joe Soucheray has more than earned his stripes over the years as the staunchest opponent of the Twin Cities billion dollar light rail boondoggle. But now the Mayor of Garage Logic has issued a reminder that on slippery, snowy days like this, light rail can be perilous to more than your pocketbook.

He ought to know, having recently come close to becoming a statistic himself, according to a recent Pioneer Press column.

Remember the big snowfall a couple of Mondays back? I was trying to cross University Avenue at the light on Berry Street. Two drivers in front of me had gotten themselves catawampus in the deep snow and I went around them. The light was green. As I approached my turn, the light turned orange but I thought I could make it. I gunned it, but my purchase on the snow was tenuous and the light turned red with me just about to cross.

I went for it. My option was to stop on the tracks. I heard the horn. It might as well have sounded inside the car. As I turned to go eastbound on University Avenue, I caught the train in my peripheral vision. I guess I made it by a matter of feet, not yards, but a matter of a few feet or I would have been smashed in the middle of the right rear passenger door.

Soucheray’s close encounter with the Green Line raised some basic safety questions for the columnist. To what extent do Metro Transit operators take into account winter conditions and those of us behind the wheel?

Don’t the train operators have to take the rest of us into account on a day of such significant snow that there were bound to be others like me who got caught in the tail end of an orange that turned red?

There were more of us on the street, pedestrians, cars, buses, delivery trucks, than there were passengers on that train. It was a deep snow.

The column was written in response to a reader, who focused on the issue of where responsibility lies for the five deaths due to light rail accidents to date.

Dick Rohland of Roseville, writing to the Pioneer Press just a few days ago, has thoroughly challenged my belief that if you get hit by a train, any train, but most principally a Green Line or Blue Line light-rail train, it is your fault. Mr. Rohland would assign blame for the deaths of five pedestrians hit by light-rail trains to the politicians who brought about this … “billion-dollar, deathly mistake in mass transportation and not the victims.”

“A high speed train, navigating through dozens of signal lights,” Rohland wrote, “and moving within feet of thousands of pedestrians and vehicles just does not make any sense. Where is the wisdom in this?”

Rohland, perhaps belatedly, perhaps not, has stumbled onto the critical problem that brought us to the point of having trains in the first place. It was a decision not based on wisdom. It was a decision made by a political class that derives its wisdom from the belief that ascending to a political office or bureaucratic post means they know better than the rest of us what it is good for us. They sold us on the idea, for example, that light rail would ease congestion, which was always utter nonsense.

Soucheray’s position on who’s most responsible for putting drivers and pedestrians needlessly in harm’s way appears to be softening.

In his letter, Rohland keeps referencing the speed of the trains at 40 or 50 mph down the center of one of the busiest streets in the city, University Avenue. Here is where Rohland finds sympathy for the pedestrians who have been killed, that they have become pawns to the speed and confusion of the trains operating in the middle of a street lined by retail stores, thousands of pedestrians and vehicles and hundreds of daily buses.

I hadn’t thought about it that way. As much as I know the trains to be a folly that will never pay for themselves — the trains have become another entitlement program, pure and simple — I held fast to the truth that if you get hit by a train, it is your fault. It became a mantra of mine to anyone who would listen. “If you get by a train, it is your fault.” They have horns and lights.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Regardless, one thing for sure. Light rail crossings are nothing to take lightly on days like this when the trains keep coming as you spin your wheels.