2018 Research Project

Examining Potential Safety Risks Associated with the Introduction of Light Rail Transit

Principal Investigator 
Eric Dumbaugh
Florida Atlantic University
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Candace Brakewood
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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Conventional wisdom holds that transit is safer than other forms of surface transportation. But light rail produces 14.8 fatalities for every billion passenger miles, making it 1.5 times more dangerous than personal automobiles, and more than 17 times more hazardous than bus service. It should further be observed that these numbers only account for fatal crashes involving light rail vehicles. They do not account for injurious or non-injurious crashes, which occur significantly more frequently, nor do they account for multiple-vehicle or vehicle-pedestrian crashes, which are likely to be significantly influenced by operational changes associated with the introduction of light rail service, as well as through increased pedestrian activity occurring in station areas.

This study will entail a two-tiered analysis. The first analysis will entail a systematic examination of national trends in light rail safety performance. The second tier will investigate the design-level factors that may be responsible to the crash risk associated with light rail transit.

This study will provide a detailed analysis of the safety impacts of two recently-developed light rail systems in the U.S.: Orlando SunRail and Charlotte Lynx. Most observational before-after studies in road safety research consist of an examination of a single location or, at most, a handful of locations. For this study, we have complete land use, development, safety, and transportation data for two light rail systems, comprising 50 miles of service, 27 individual stations, and hundreds of intersections where surface streets cross light rail tracks.

Logically, the safety hazard posed by the introduction of light rail service in urban environments falls into five categories:

  • Crashes involving pedestrians and light rail vehicles.
  • Crashes involving motorists and light rail vehicles.
  • Crashes involving pedestrians and motorists in proximity to a light rail station, due to increased pedestrian activity.
  • Crashes occurring between motorists as a result of intersection control changes that have occurred as a result of the introduction of light rail service, such as rear-end collisions occurring dues to the additional need for vehicles to stop during rail crossing events.
  • Crashes that occur at non-intersection locations, but which may entail pedestrians attempting to cross rail lines that traverse their neighborhoods, but where protected crossings are not provided.

This study will examine the frequency and severity of each of these crash types before and after the introduction of light rail service. At a minimum, this study will produce the following:

  • A national assessment of the risk factors associated with light rail transit service.
  • The identification of the modal characteristics of injuries and deaths associated with light rail transit.
  • An understanding of the temporal and climactic factors associated with crashes involving light rail vehicles.
  • An examination of how modifications of the built environment as a result of light rail service may influence traffic-related deaths and injuries along corridors and near transit stops.
  • An understanding of the design-level factors that may increase, or decrease, the incidence of deaths and injuries associated with the provision of light rail service.

Project Details

Project Type: Research
Project Status: Active
Start Date: 5-1-2018
End Date: 2-28-2020
Contract Year: Year 2
Total Funding from CSCRS: $123,736
Collaborating Organizations: University of Tennessee, Knoxville