Valley Metro working to cut down on vehicles crashing into light rail trains

Arizona’s Family Investigates found about two dozen crashes involving the light rail and cars or trucks since it opened.
Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 8:00 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - As the metro Phoenix area grows, so does the need for a diversified public transit system. Nine million people used Valley Metro’s light rail system in 2022. The Valley’s light rail trains share the road with everyday traffic, which can lead to accidents. Arizona’s Family Investigates found about two dozen crashes involving the light rail and cars or trucks since it opened.

Arizona’s Family Investigates obtained video of five of the most recent crashes. They make you question what these drivers were thinking or even if they were paying attention. The drivers turn left-right in front of the light rail. In another, they turn their truck into a moving train. Then there’s the head-on crash involving a pickup truck. Valley Metro said two people were injured here.

“I’ve definitely noticed a lot of foot traffic; sometimes, cars will go the wrong way. So it’s not too surprising given the circumstances I’ve seen,” Heather Abu-Teyah, a Phoenix driver, said.

“I have; the first time I came here in 2016, I did drive on this lane,” Shiv Zab, a Phoenix driver, said.

A terrifying experience for Shiv Zab, who explained what was going through his mind.

“I’m not supposed to be here; I’m not supposed to be here. I can’t reverse in the middle of the road. I can’t be here,” Zab said.

“Right now, we have the train detection signs that are on the traffic poles. So that warns motorists when they’re coming up to a traffic signal,” Susan Tierney with Valley Metro said.

Tierney said they student every accident, determining 90% of them are the result of illegal left turns.

“We’re asking motorists constantly to be obeying the traffic signals, and can we be more obvious with those traffic signals,” Tierney said.

Valley Metro had made progress. According to their data, in 2020, there were 35 collisions, 27 in 2021, and last year the number was down to 20.

At the same time, Valley Metro said they’ve increased the number of trains in their fleet from 50 in 2020 to 62 in 2022.

“Every once in a while, but I think it’s more of people in a rush,” Oscar Baltazar, a Phoenix light rail rider, said.

As Tierney points out, a lot of this boils down to common sense.

“This system has been designed for safety from the guideway to the station platforms… We ask that people just watching what’s around them,” Tierney said.

Valley Metro couldn’t tell us if driver impairment was behind any of these crashes. They don’t have access to that information.

With expansion plans in the works for the light rail both in the west and south, Valley Metro said they’d continue to monitor accidents and look at ways to prevent them.

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