A lot of people have been asking if I was in or near the Metro train that crashed in DC the other day, and I pointed out that (a) I drive to work since I'm out in the 'burbs and (b) the crash took place on the other side of the city, in the Maryland suburbs. Understandably, a lot of people are nervous about riding the Metro after such a crash, since of course the trains were supposed to be failsafe and of course when you have corner-cutters running the show the brakes don't get inspected as often and one drowsy train-operator can take too long to use the manual brake when the system fails, and then you have a mess. But I would point out a few things:
1) Considering the sheer number of people moved on the Metros all year long, one crash like this (in how many years?) is still a safe record relative to cars, where deadly accidents occur frequently on the highways around here.
2) The convergence of events that caused the crash--a train being backed up where it wasn't supposed to be, an operator who wasn't on top of her game, brakes that likely weren't in tip top condition, and the automatic system failing--is unlikely to happen on a regular basis. This is why such crashes make the news--if they happened every week, it probably would be below the fold.
3) The main reason people fear crashes on buses, airplanes and trains far more than they fear car crashes has more to do with control. When driving, you at least feel that you have some influence over whether you crash, but when it's public transportation you're just a passive victim of whatever happens.
It's very unfortunate that a lot of people were injured or killed Monday, though hopefully this incident will keep train operators more on their toes and will prompt more frequent inspections of the train equipment--I also think it'd be terrific if they diverted some of those local highway funds towards better funding for the train systems. But I'll happily ride the Metro to get into the city going forward--after all, the safest time to ride is soon after a crash like this that keeps everyone on their toes.
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