Chron transportation columnist slapped down by monorail advocate

Thanks to requests by Tom Bazan under the Open Records Act, John Gaver has updated his comprehensive list of MetroRail crashes to include several previously unreported collisions. Gaver's count now stands at 65.

Also, it appears that Metro is now classifying as a collision what it had previously deemed a "suicide attempt" in its official count, a lead that had been followed by the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle's transportation columnist, Lucas Wall, recently criticized Gaver's site in a posting to a Yahoo group run by monorail advocates:

Unfortunately [Gaver's] website is trying to compare apples to oranges. As I have learned, comparing light rail crash data is not as simple as it seems.

The state of Texas defines a reportable motor vehicle incident as a crash involving either at least $1,000 in property damage or an injury. Fender-benders with less than $1,000 damage are not tallied by the state. Based on this definition, MetroRail has had 61 incidents since testing of the full line began in October 2003. That is 56 during calendar year 2004. The Federal Transit Administration uses the calendar year to compile such safety data from the numerous transit operators across the nation.

So while it's true that San Francisco had 61 light rail crashes reported in the FTA's National Transit Database for 2001, the last data set available, and that was the national high that year, MetroRail has not set any record. First, it's at 56 state of Texas defined incidents for this calendar year. Secondly, the FTA uses a different reporting standard. Only light rail crashes involving an injury or at least $7,500 in property damage counts in the collision column of the National Transit Database. Metro tells me it's official FTA number currently stands at 28 -- a long way off from the 61 such incidents reported by San Francisco Municipal Railway in 2001.

Be careful with your statistics before you go proclaiming anything.

We are BIG MEDIA. Bow to OUR PROCLAMATIONS, you ignorant rubes!

Unfortunately for Wall, Don Gallagher, an active participant in the group, responded as follows:

There has never been any confusion here as to reporting accidents? Any collision involving a light rail train and a pedestrian or auto/truck has been reported. It remains 63 and not 61 as your newspaper wishes to report. One did not know that we can only report on specific cost accidents and set guidelines as to costs.


You, as a reporter of facts, should be reporting on all incidents and not those deemed classifiable for the state or the FTA. The Action America site, and my reports are on all incidents, all accidents. No one has made any other claim. Why should we follow the FTA guidelines if it ignores all accidents caused by the installation of at grade rail in the center of the 4th largest city?

Prior to the Metro decision to build this line, many of us had written and called them to question the use of at grade rail in our community. Safety and efficiency as well as reductions to congestion and pollution were key elements of our questions. Metro side stepped them and ignored them. The Chronicle was a joke (excuse my contempt...nothing personal) and acted as a partner with Metro.

Personally, it is the advertisers and income that drive any news media anymore rather than factual reporting. How much does Metro contribute in advertising to the Chronicle?

Unsurprisingly, Wall had no response to Gallagher. What was there to say, really?

Even as petulant journalists like Wall lecture people who have studied rail and who present their facts and figures for all to check (rather than slanting their coverage according to secret plans concocted by editors), the mainstream media continue to wonder why their credibility is at historic lows. This is a telling example.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/02/04 03:51 PM | Print |

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