Yesterday, there was a terrible train crash on the Washington DC metro rail line. Nine people were killed and dozens injured. It was horrific to be sure. But as tragic an event as it was, I think it's important that people don't overact -- especially federal regulators.
I live in the Washington metro area and take the metro to work each day. This catastrophe hit home. When I woke up, I got worried. Not about my safety in riding the train -- that didn't faze me. It was an Associated Press headline that scared me, "NTSB eyeing subway standards in wake of accident." I fear that regulators will use this accident as an excuse to over-upgrade a perfectly good rail system.
Here's the AP's lead:
A federal safety official says in the wake of Washington's deadly subway accident that the country needs better crash-worthiness standards for rail cars.
At first, this might seem reasonable. The train cars were terribly mangled. It was ugly. Would newer, better built rail cars have saved lives? Maybe. But let's put this accident into perspective. Also from the AP article:
The only other time in Metrorail's 33-year history that there were passenger fatalities was on Jan. 13, 1982, when three people died as a result of a derailment beneath downtown.
So let me get this straight: in 33 years, there have been a total of 12 people die on the Washington Metro. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty happy about those safety standards. Let's compare that to, say, cars. In the mere 14 years from 1994 through 2007, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Washington DC had 745 traffic fatalities. And that's in less than half the time period. This statistic also excludes fatalities in Washington's massive suburbs in Virginia and Maryland, which the DC metro also serves.
Let's think of this another way. The average Washington metro ridership for June so far has been 696,534 riders per day. So if you assume an accident like this killing nine people happens every 15 years or so (which is actually a rather liberal estimate, given history), that means there is approximately a 0.0000002% chance you will be killed each time you ride the DC Metro. Put another way, 1 in every 423,724,635 riders on the DC metro will be killed. I'll take my chances.
Given this revelation, why are federal regulators freaking out about rail safety, especially since they seem relatively content with car safety? Because they're overreacting.
Maybe that overreaction is a response to some of the public condemning the rail cars as too flimsy. If that's the case, those demanding safer impenetrable cars must realize that, like the old rail cars, the old fares they used to pay will also become artifacts of the past. Or maybe local governments will just increases taxes to increase the subsidy the metro gets. Either way, the public pays.
I don't own a car and have not paid for a cab in the nearly six months I've lived in the DC area. That means, other than my feet, the Washington metro system is my only means of transportation. I would benefit more than just about anyone from nicer, safer rail cars. Yet, rather than pay more for my ticket or in taxes, I'd prefer to roll the 423 million-sided dice.
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