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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

After just one month of service, Norfolk’s new light rail system has defied all expectations, at least in terms of the number of passengers who have been enticed onto the new service.

The Tide in Norfolk, VA, is attracting about 5,140 riders a month which is almost double the original estimate. But the first month of operation has also raised a safety issue that our law firm’s experienced Virginia, VA, mass transit and light rail attorneys highlighted months before it opened.

Hampton Roads Transit has announced a series of safety and other upgrades intended to make the service more user friendly, the Virginian-Pilot reports. One of these changes relates to signs. HRT is apparently changing 21 traffic signs in downtown Norfolk, VA that say No Left Turn Across Tracks and replacing them with the internationally recognized no-left-turn symbol.

HRT officials believe signs with words are less effective than the standard traffic symbol, the Pilot reported.

On August 17, 2011, a van driver ignored a sign like this relating to a right turn across the tracks at Brambleton Avenue and 2nd Street in Norfolk and sustained a shoulder injury in a collision with a train. The intersection has been singled out for special attention, according to the Pilot.

HRT is also adjusting the York Street bike crossing in response to concerns expressed by cyclists. Safety barricades where the Elizabeth River Trail crosses the tracks close to the intersection of Botetourt Street and Brambleton Avenue will be adjusted to allow bikes to maneuver more easily. Cyclists were apparently finding metal railings difficult to get through.

The other changes relate to passenger services and comfort. Wireless internet will be added to the trains, and an online ticket-purchasing option will soon be available.

As Norfolk, VA, personal injury attorneys, my colleagues and I are relieved the accidents to date involving the Tide have not been serious. However, the service has only been running for a month.

I was consulted to discuss the need for positive train control because I am a former chair of the Railroad Section of the American Association for Justice, and I have been involved in national railroad safety issues for many years. HRT discussed this system of automatic braking in the past, but it was omitted from the final plan to shave $10 million off the budget. I was interviewed by local TV stations about this issue when I pointed out the cost of positive train control would not be seen as high on the Tide if there was a serious accident.

I hope the safety changes announced by HRT will help avert accidents, although questions linger about whether the new measures go far enough. Having represented victims of train crashes for more than 20 years, I hope they will have a positive effect.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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