We at TriMet appreciate the attention and thoughtful suggestions about MAX rail safety ("TriMet must reduce MAX collision deaths," MyView, Feb. 5.) However, many of the statistics included were wrong and some of the conclusions reached misrepresent this important issue.
We take very seriously our obligation to our riders, our employees and our community. Every incident — especially those involving loss of life — is devastating. They ripple through our community and have a profound effect on those involved, and their families and friends. TriMet operators and staff, and the emergency workers who respond, also carry the weight of these heartbreaking losses with them for life.
Tragically, there have been seven confirmed suicides by train and 34 fatal collisions in the tri-county area TriMet serves during the 33 years of MAX operation. By contrast, in Portland alone, the 20-year fatality rate averages 37 people killed each year in collisions involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
The lives lost are more than statistics, as each person was a son, daughter, loved one. We do not take the losses on our system lightly. However, when it comes to meaningful safety comparisons, many distinctions and circumstances must be weighed.
TriMet staff reviews all collisions and conducts in-depth analysis on serious incidents to determine what happened and if it could have been prevented by our actions. In addition to holding ourselves accountable, we have high-level oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration and the Oregon Department of Transportation's Rail and Public Transit Division.
Proactively, we monitor and work to enhance our system's safety, learning from other transit agencies and pursuing new technology to reduce the likelihood of collisions. We strive to not only meet but exceed required safety design and features.
We prompt people to behave safely around our trains. We have put up pedestrian warning devices and fencing at many crossings. We have signs to alert trespassers to stay out of restricted track areas. Our operators sound horns and warning bells, and we conduct awareness campaigns urging people to pay attention around our vehicles. With all we do, we are also constantly looking to do more that encourages personal safety.
There have long been efforts to compare safety statistics and fatality rates to further personal or political agendas. Whether you support or oppose public transit expansion, as a community we must work toward zero fatalities by any mode of transportation. This is especially important when considering the hundreds of thousands of people expected to move to our region in the coming decades — and the increased traffic that will bring across all modes.
We all must understand that safety is a shared responsibility. TriMet alone cannot prevent fatalities. While we appreciate this discussion about MAX safety, public awareness and actively changing behavior are crucial to eliminating these collisions. Please pay attention when crossing streets and tracks. Follow traffic rules, obey signals and set aside distractions. And, when it comes to MAX trains, be aware around tracks, take a moment to look both ways and never trespass into restricted areas.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255). There is hope. Make the call.
Roberta Alstadt is Trimet's media relations and communications