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June 23, 2009

Baltimore Metro has one fatality on record


baltimore metro


 Baltimore Sun file photo / 2005
UPDATE: MTA spoeswoman Jawauna Greene said late Tuesday that she had  learned there had been one fatal accident  involving an MTA employee in the Metro  trainyard in the first few years after the subway opened,

According to the Maryland Transit Administration, there has never been a only one fatal crash involving an employee or a passenger on its Metro subway in nearly 26 years of operation.

That contrasts with the record of Washington's Metro system, which after Monday's crash that killed nine has at least 17 fatalities on its record since opening in 1976. (Both totals exclude suicides by jumping on the tracks.)

 Admittedly, Washington's system is much larger than Baltimore's one-line wonder, but zero one is still zero zero and 17 is still 17.

For those who think the comparison is unfair to DC Metro, consider: Which transit system has the resources and cahet to attract the "best and brightest" in transit? Baltimore's system may be rinky-dink, but safe rinky-dink beats dangerous world-class.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore Metro


Yea Baltimore. Perhaps if the DC system stopped serving 95% of the customers it does every day they could be on equal footing with Baltimore's service and safety levels.

This is just the dumbest thing I've read yet today.


Baltimore does run trains on the same headways as DC. Actually, up until single tracking for repairs, they had been running more frequent evening and weekend headways.

I'm not saying that system size or ridership compares, but that the system is run with the same or greater efficiency when compared to DC, with a much better record.

Maybe it's because we don't allow our operators to put up posters or play with laptops and cell phones while driving a train?!

Footnote: 800,000 vs. 40,000 daily riders.

The fact that this is gaining national news should signify this event as the exception that confirms how safe heavy rail transit systems are.

Though the Baltimore Metro operates more frequently later in the evenings and on weekends than a few DC lines, the DC system usually has a much higher service frequency. The Baltimore Metro operates at 8 minute headways during rush, while the DC Red Line operates slightly irregular headways (due to short-turning service to Silver Spring and such) of around 2.5 to 3 minutes, often with 8 car trains.

I'm not at all surprised that the deaths have occurred in recent years more, since ridership has grown so much, the system reached its full-size, headways shortened, and most critically maintenance deferred.

If 9 people died in a auto pile up, it probably wouldn't generate much, if any, national attention--a testament to the safety of Metro systems.

I don't believe the Baltimore system is run as efficiently as DC. Baltimore Metro doesn't have to. There's plenty of slack in the schedule. It runs reasonably well without having to put much effort into it; not that we SHOULD run it that way....

But, I think this is an appropriate opportunity for the public to examine the difference in safety between HRT and light rail transit (LRT). For a stat I got in easy reach:

In FY 2001, Baltimore's Central Light Rail had 23 vehicle to vehicle collisions, while the Metro had one during the previous 19 years. This made the history safety of the Metro in that particular stat over 400 times safer than the CLR! It averaged a collision every 16 days!

Moreover, the planned Baltimore Red Line Alt 4C, with its supposedly better, narrow cars, would be LRT on a narrower right-of-way on Edmondson Ave (22.5' versus about 25' on Howard St) to be adjacent to 50,000 commuters and trucks routinely 3 ft from trains. I think that scenario speaks for itself.

Nate Payer
The views expressed above are my own.

This is an unfair assessment. The Washington Metro is an older and more complicated system than our. Even tho zero fatalities is better than 17 fatalities, you can compare life like that on such arbitrary terms. Everyday people die in automobile accidents, but yet if someone were to mention not allowing anyone to drive again, people would get in an uproar.

Its the fact that people perceive that they have no control when traveling on a bus, subway, plane, train, etc. Because they have no control, they feel that they should be safe but all things we do have risk... even staying in the house.

They definitely need to understand what went on and improve the system, but useless comparisons like this help no one.

This is like comparing apples to oranges--there is a total difference between Baltimore's Metro Subway and WMATA's Metrorail.... The main difference being ridership--Baltimore Metro Subway has about 1/10th the ridership of Metro (which averages 775-825 thousand rides on weekdays), so of course it has less problems. Distance is another factor, Baltimore has about 14 miles of track for accidents to happen on, Metro has 106.3 miles of track, that's nearly 10x more track for something to go wrong with. Age is another factor, Baltimore Subway was built in the 80's and is considerably newer; Metro's oldest lines (like the Red Line) opened in 1976! Additionally, MTA (the operator of the Baltimore Metro Subway) funds the system through dedicated state revenue and other forms of set funding--WMATA must come to MD, VA, DC and the Feds each year to beg for money set by a formula of how much each jurisdiction will benefit from its services--during times like this recession, there's no way of knowing if the plea for money will be answered. Finally, Metro actually does provide superior service to Baltimore Subway when you consider frequency of trains, reach of the system, quality of the rail cars (Baltimore cars are dirty, smelly, and ugly), and overall experience using the system. While Metro has a lot of problems, and needs help fast, it is still by far the superior area system and considered by most to be the premier modern urban transit system.... second only to NYC (in terms of size and ridership) which is not even a fair contest since NYC is an ancient system by comparison. You can have your Baltimore Metro Subway, personally, I like having a useful system that actually takes me places I want to go! If going from the Inner Harbor to Old Court is your idea of a good time--than by all means--enjoy your trip Baltimore (while I laugh at the sillyness of your little subway toy)!

Apples to oranges indeed. I'd take Washington's Metro any day over Baltimore's lame "system".

Besides trains running more frequently in DC, it also appears that a person is less likely to become a crime victim.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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