Deleting Stops Doesn’t Make HSR Safer
A horrific crash like that which took place last week in Spain provides a good opportunity to take a close look at California’s HSR system to see if there are any things that could or should be addressed to improve safety. But not every suggestion is a good one. Take this one from Thomas Elias, who suggests the problem is stops in the Central Valley:
What do stations in Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield and San Jose have to do with a crumpled train and at least 79 fatalities in Spain? It might be this: being rushed can lead to carelessness and that can bring disaster….
But no control system is fail-safe. So why not remove factors that might someday encourage an engineer worried about job ratings and on-time performance to do something risky?
Stops at intermediate stations (only lightly used during high-speed rides this columnist has taken in Europe) now appear to be the most obvious items that might create a rushed feeling.
So one California lesson from the Spanish crash may be to take a second look at those stations and figure a way to eliminate one or two before spending many millions to build them.
This doesn’t make sense. This is like saying the secret to reducing plane crashes at SFO is to have fewer planes serve the airport. Plenty of HSR systems around the world make intermediate stops between the largest destinations without a problem. That includes Spain, where the AVE trains between Madrid and Barcelona make intermediate stops on ERTMS-enabled tracks and have never had a problem.
California High Speed Rail Authority spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley also pointed out to Elias that the California HSR system will use much better signaling than the one in place in Galicia:
Still, insists Alley, there will be no risk of a Spanish-style accident. “We will have a fully unified control system covering the entire route where things talk to each other, not a piecemeal one,” she said. “Where we’ll make full speed is yet to be determined, but we will build absolutely the safest mode of transport for Californians that’s ever been seen.”
HSR is one of the safest methods of travel on the planet, and that will be true in California as well. One of its most important aspects is that it connects major cities in between SF and LA, and helps integrate the Central Valley into the rest of the state’s economy. Cutting out intermediate stops is completely unnecessary from a safety perspective and economically damaging to the state as well.