A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from July 08, 2008
Wham Bam Tram or A Streetcar Named Disaster (Houston’s MetroRail)

The city of Houston’s MetroRail system is 7.5 miles of light rail, first opened in 2004. MetroRail had so many accidents in its first months of operation that it was being dubbed the “Wham Bam Train” and “A Streetcar Named Disaster” and “Danger Train.”

Safety performance—which could hardly get much worse—has improved since 2004. The nicknames have still stuck, especially “Wham Bam Tram.”

Wikipedia: METRORail
METRORail is the 7.5-mile (12.1 km) light rail line located in Houston, Texas (U.S.) known as the Red Line. It is the second major light rail service in Texas following the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system. With an approximate daily ridership of 39,800 daily, the METRORail Red Line ranks as the eleventh most-traveled light rail system in the United States, with the second highest ridership per track mile.

The arrival of METRORail came 64 years after the previous streetcar system was shut down, which left Houston as the largest city in the United States without a rail system since 1990 when the Blue Line opened in Los Angeles. METRORail is operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, or METRO for short.
Crash rate
In the beginning of its operation, averaging 11 crashes per track mile per year, compared with the national average of 0.55 for similar rail systems, critics of the METRORail gave the line local nicknames as “Streetcar Named Disaster” and the “Wham-Bam-Tram”. The first METRORail crash occurred in November, 2003 as the system was still under testing prior to opening. In September 2004, METRORail set a new record for the most accidents in a year, passing San Francisco Municipal Railway’s 2001 record of 61 crashes over 73.3 miles (118.0 km) — nearly ten times the length of the Houston Redline.

As of April 15, 2006, there have been 129 crashes officially confirmed. One crash has resulted in a fatality; the fatal crash occurred on May 10, 2005 and involved a man in a pickup truck who ran through a red light at the Jefferson Street intersection and collided with a train, killing the driver of the truck instantly and causing minor injuries to several passengers of the train.

There are several possible reasons for the high accident rate; an often proffered explanation is that the entire 7.5 miles (12.1 km) of track runs in city streets unlike systems with private right-of-ways, though systems like the Baltimore Light Rail run much of their route in mixed traffic as well without anywhere near the crash rate.

METRO has consistently blamed driver error as the cause of the high collision rate and the transit agency’s police department regularly tickets motorists who cross paths with the train. Some of the people involved in the crashes have stated that poor signage and signal layouts have contributed to the problem. Critics argue that such a high rate of driver error must be attributable to an environment conducive to it. METRO has rearranged some signals and altered some sign arrangements to try to make things clearer.

After a near miss, an investigation was launched and the results were sent out in a press release. Along with its findings, it has also published its results since implementation of several safety improvements, the crash rates have gone down significantly over the past few years from 62 crashes in its first year of operation to 14 as of May 31, 2007 with a goal for fiscal year 2007 of 28.

Action America
The Wham-Bam-Tram
Houston Mass Transit or
Weapon of Mass Destruction?

by John Gaver
March 18, 2004
Upated May 28, 2004
Houston. We have a problem.

Houston’s former Mayor Lee P. Brown, backed by a variety of downtown Houston businesses, including Enron, wanted a modern light rail system for downtown that, as they said, would put Houston on the map. Well, they got their wish. Houston’s new MetroRail has certainly put Houston on the map, but not in the way they planned.

The new MetroRail system, now just under five months into normal public operation, is indeed, drawing all kinds of national attention, because of the national records that it is breaking. Unfortunately, the records that are being broken are the kind that Houston Mayor Bill White, the City Council and the MetroRail Board, would just as soon forget. You see, in just the first four months of public operation, Houston’s rail safety record has become the absolute worst on record in the entire United States and by a very wide margin, at that. Jokes abound about Houston having used dual use technologies to turn their mass transit system onto their own private weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Just don’t tell the Bush administration or they’ll invade Houston.

As an example of the records being set, according to a KHOU television report, the Houston MetroRail has the dubious distinction of having been involved in more traffic accidents in its first two months of public operation, than any rail system, in any other city, over the entire first year of operation - not exactly a record to be proud of. Then consider the fact that the 7.5 mile route of the Houston MetroRail system is far shorter than that of any of those other cities and you will realize that the magnitude of the MetroRail failure is multiplied, since a shorter route, should logically mean fewer accidents. Is it any wonder then, that, many Houstonians now laughingly refer to it in such terms as, the “Wham-Bam-Tram” or the “Streetcar Named Disaster”.

News 8 Austin
Crashes give new Houston rail line a bad reputation
8/7/2004 8:27 PM
By: Associated Press
HOUSTON—Houston’s new rail line between downtown and the Astrodome is earning a few new nicknames.

The list includes: “Danger Train,’’ the “Wham Bam Tram’’ and “A Streetcar Named Disaster.’’

More than 50 collisions have occurred along the 7.5 mile route since it opened in November.

Some Houston residents are keeping a running tally on Web sites.

The MetroRail averages six crashes a month. The Federal Transit Administration said that’s a rate 20 times worse than the U.S. average for the nation’s 17 light rail systems. 

Wham Bam Tram bumper sticker
Houston’s METROrail has had more crashes than any other rail system in the US...129 to date...averaging one crash every 6 days. So it has been dubbed “The Wham Bam Tram”
created by dsoren (December 22, 2006 at 07:37PM)

Posted by orange blossom special on Wed Jun 6 18:21:52 2007.
UH - Downtown is a public four-year undergraduate university. University of Houston
The official name of the train, however, is still the “Wham Bam Tram”

Responsible Transportation Forum
“Houston- We Have a Problem”-with Light Rail
January 29th, 2008
Houston’s “Wham-Bam Tram” strikes again!
Responsible Transportation Forum has posted previously regarding serious safety issues with light rail lines in other cities. Houston is one of the most notorious systems, with incident after incident documenting crashes between the light rail trains and cars, or the trains and pedestrians.

UnSound Transit
Monday, March 10, 2008
Houston Light Rail - “A Streetcar Named Disaster”
Wednesday, August 11, 2004, 12:00 AM.
Houston’s light rail making a real dent in city’s car traffic
By Mark Babineck
The Associated Press
HOUSTON — Once called the “train to nowhere,” Houston’s new rail line between downtown and the Astrodome is earning a few new nicknames: “Danger Train,” the “Wham Bam Tram,” “A Streetcar Named Disaster.”

More than 50 collisions have occurred along the 7.5-mile route since it opened in November, most of them with cars making illegal turns across the tracks.

Rail promoters promised the sleek, gray trains would take cars off the road — “They’ve just done it one car at a time,” said John Gaver, who started the Wham-Bam-Tram counter, a Web site that tallies each crash.

The MetroRail averages six crashes a month — a rate 20 times worse than the average for the nation’s 17 light-rail systems, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Loathing Houston
The Wham-Bam-Tram
March 13, 2008
Houston mass transit or weapon of mass destruction?

This comes courtesy of actionamerica.org. We have this multi-million dollar toy train that runs downtown and has a nasty habit of running into things and people. You might be saying to yourself, “Oh, it’s just designed badly” The reality? Houstonians pull in front of the damn thing even though there are all kinds of lights and bells going off to warn people. It happens so often that the Houston Chronicle (the only damn paper in this town.) has stopped reporting them. The guilt as I can see is almost a 50/50 split between the drivers and the tram team as many are unaware of the danger it poses on streets with badly designed or non existent signals. But what can you expect, it was designed and funded by Houstonians.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Tuesday, July 08, 2008 • Permalink