8 people have been killed by METRO trains in 5 years

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Over a five-year period, eight people have been hit and killed by METRO trains. Could those deaths have been prevented? (KTRK)

It's a story that sounds absurd: people across Houston who, for whatever reason, weren't able to hear a METRO train coming toward them and walked or rode right into its path.

It happens more often than you might think.

Over a five-year period, eight people have been hit and killed by METRO trains.

In 2016, there were 108 crashes with METRO trains. One was fatal.

In many cases, those victims didn't see or hear the trains coming.

Video from trains and platforms show people move onto tracks as if no train is anywhere near.

WATCH: METRO cameras catch close calls
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METRO cameras record close calls with pedestrians and bikes across its system.



How could people not be aware of a 50-ton train?

"You would be surprised," Mary Blitzer said. She rides to work downtown each day and serves as an advocacy director for BikeHouston, an organization working to make Houston a safer place to ride.

METRO stepped up safety efforts in response to two deadly train crashes in February, but our investigation reveals confidential METRO accident reports that have raised sound, speed and visibility issues for years.



How quiet are they?

"They're really pretty quiet and right now, there's nothing happening and there's a lot of noise," Blitzer said.

METRO's own tests in those confidential accident reports show neither the train nor its horn is always loud enough to get your attention. As part of the new safety push, horns do sound more often now, but they aren't louder than before.

Beyond what METRO has already changed, there are no plans to change the frequency or loudness of the train horns, METRO vice president Terrance Fontaine said.

"You've been in situations throughout neighborhoods where they fought for quiet zones because trains were too loud," Fontaine said.

Three people have died at the intersection of Interstate 610 and Fannin Street since 2015. METRO pointed us to reports saying one victim may have been suicidal, another possibly drunk. METRO reports suggest several times that freeway pillars at this intersection create a "blind spot" for train operators.

In one report, METRO indicated that a pedestrian signal "does not give pedestrian[s] enough time to cross the tracks safely."



Bells sound more often, but nothing has been done to improve visibility or slow the trains down.

There's still no plan to go slower or add gates for pedestrians to physically keep them from walking onto tracks. Cars have a gate, but the sidewalk only has fencing.

The Federal Railroad Administration suggested back in 2007 that something called a Z-crossing along with pedestrian gates helped keep people off the tracks in thousands of situations across the country in places that had the same problem.

A commuter with his son opens the gates to catch the Blue Line light train in Los Angeles. The gates were added in response to 101 fatalities in 20 years.



Since those two fatal crashes in February, METRO began changing the colors of trains, painting intersections and using the train's horns more often - all to make trains more noticeable.

"It's difficult to say why didn't you do something before because you can say that about almost anything," Fontaine said.

People around the train have to unplug and pay attention to their surroundings, Fontaine said. Many of the reports show that victims had headphones in.

Videos of close calls show people looking down at their phone while walking through intersections.

Blitzer is advocating the message of awareness and hopes that people will take the leap and take part in bike events across the city, emphasizing that biking in Houston is a safe endeavor, even though more can be done.

"BikeHouston is pleased to see METRO fully reviewing the various ways to improve safety along the rail corridor - including changes to traffic signal timing, paint and signage at intersections, train color and horns, as well as looking at traffic flow through the area," the organization said in a statement. "To date, METRO is taking this issue seriously and is moving at pace to make improvements. We will keep working with METRO to ensure this continues to move beyond a study into changes in the real world from street design to train operations. We certainly hope the press and public help ensure we get real safety improvements."

"It's not rocket science," Blitzer said. "It's not that technically complicated. It's not even that expensive, it's just being motivated to do it."

Fontaine teased that there's something in the works at METRO - it's still secret - but says it is big enough to enhance light rail safety around the world.

That announcement could come in the next few months.

THE CRASHES

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July 22, 2013 - Vivian Guan
Vivian Guan was on her bike near a platform at Main Street and Walker. Guan turned left onto a track into the path of an oncoming train. She was hit and killed.

Guan did not appear to see the train until just before it hit her, a report said.

March 2, 2015 - Lenae Johnson

Lenae Johnson was in Houston for a wedding. She crossed onto the track near Main Street and Drew Street in front of an oncoming train. She was killed on impact.

Johnson may have been unfamiliar with Houston and h ad headphones in at the time, a report said.

June 2, 2015 - Steven White
Steven White was near the intersection of Fannin and Interstate 610. This intersection is listed as a 'no clearance' zone that creates a blind spot for drivers, though there's no indication that the blind spot contributed to this crash.

White was on the track when the train hit him, killing him. Family members told METRO that he was hearing-impaired and not wearing his hearing aids at the time.
June 10, 2015 - Billy Forsythe
Just eight days after the death of Steven White at the intersection of Fannin and I-610, another pedestrian walked into a train. Billy Forsythe died when he didn't "acknowledge the presence of the train" before being hit.

Nov. 1, 2015 - Julian Chad Edward
Julian Chad Edward was running across McGowen Street at Main Street when he was hit and killed by an oncoming train. One of the contributing factors of the crash included the fact the operator was not properly sounding the train's 'gong'. The operator was required to attend 24 hours of retraining.

Feb. 1, 2016 - Federico Gallegos Iracheta
Federico Gallegos Iracheta was hit and killed by a train as it passed at Fulton Street and Patton Street. Iracheta was on a bike and made a sharp left turn into the train, the accident report said.

Feb. 3, 2017 - Marjorie Corcoran
Rice professor Marjorie Corcoran was hit while on her bike at Fannin Street and Sunset Boulevard. She was riding out of the Hermann Park area when she was hit after her bike went into the track.

Feb. 5, 2017 - Bilal Muslim
Two days after Corcoran's death, Bilal Muslim was hit at Fannin Street and I-610. It's the third crash in that location since 2013. Muslim was on a bike and started to cross the tracks, then turned around when the train approached.

Note: Photos of accident scenes were included in some of the reports above and those pages were removed in the above-published versions.
Related Topics:
newsTed Oberg Investigatesmetrotrain accidenttrain crashtrain safetyHouston
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