The Seattle Monorail has two trains, and they collided


Murphy’s Law vindicated again. The Seattle Monorail has two trains, and last year they managed to collide. To get this to happen was particularly tricky, since the trains run on separate tracks, and there is only one spot on the entire line where a collision could occur—and they found it. You can read about it in this Associated Press article that describes the monorail as a “mile-high, 43-year-old elevated line”. Wow, a mile high. Those must’ve been really long ladders to get people down.

It was supposed to resume operation a few weeks ago, but the reopening was delayed due to a glitch in the emergency-braking system. We can’t get anything right around here.

Comments (26)
  1. Azeem Jiva says:

    Do you have a picture of the area where the trains collided?

    [Wouldn’t it be great if there was a web site where you could type, say, monorail accident 2005 and it would find information about it on the Internet? Maybe even pictures? I bet you could make a lot of money if you made a web site that did that. -Raymond]
  2. Peter Ritchie says:

    Reminds me of the first automobile collision–where there was only a handful of cars in the world–and two cars collided in, of all places, St. Louis.

    Or, at least that’s how the myth goes; I’ve never bothered to confirm.

  3. WendyHome says:

    lots of photographs on the seattle monorail collision on flick-r:  

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=seattle%20monorail%20collision&w=all

  4. nksingh says:

    "[Wouldn’t it be great if there was a web site where you could type, say, monorail accident 2005 and it would find information about it on the Internet? Maybe even pictures? I bet you could make a lot of money if you made a web site that did that. -Raymond]"

    But then you have to get into the sleazy world of internet advertising, because your users will never pay for it directly.  And if you’re Microsoft and you actually meet with success at this business, you know some governmental entity is going to try to take it away.  

    -Sorry for the off-topic rant.

  5. Jamie Gordon says:

    You can just imagine after driving the monorail 43 years without incident does breed a certain amount of nonchalance. I wonder if they had a contingency in place for two monorail trains on independant tracks ever colliding?

    Although I just can’t stop thinking about Lyle Lanley in his straw boater! "Well sir, there’s nothing on earth like a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car, Monorail!"

  6. Curt says:

    "It was supposed to resume operation a few weeks ago, but the reopening was delayed due to a glitch in the emergency-braking system. We can’t get anything right around here."

    Like hiring drivers smart enough not to drive the trains into each other?

  7. tsrblke says:

    What I could not easily find was an actual height for the Monorail tracks.  Based on a picture I saw on Wikipedia I’d guess their only about 30 feet high.  (There was a person standing next to a pole and guessed that it was 5X his roughly 6 foot height.)  But that’s just a guess.  that doesn’t seem high enough though especially going over roads.

  8. Cody says:

    Aren’t most bridge overpasses only 14′ or so?  Thus, 30′ should be fine, no?

  9. Brooklyn says:

    It looks like a typo in the article, it’s actually 1 mile long not 1 mile high.

    From http://www.seattlemonorail.com :

    "Each trip takes two minutes to cover the 1 mile route."

  10. Mark Mullin says:

    Wow –  I don’t exactly know why, but the intersection between this and the sites normal content somehow feels ‘just right’

    That said, there’s one glaring error in the article that can be resolved using an approximation of that hypothetical web site you mention. Specificall, given that Seattle is (roughly) at sea level and the tallest structure we’ve ever managed to make is 629m (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World‘s_tallest_structures#Tallest_structures), it’s unlikely that anywhere on those tracks is 1 mile high, either above ground, or just from sea level

    :-)

  11. Barry Leiba says:

    There’s an old "Far Side" cartoon titled "Dinosaur cranial capacity".  It depicts a vast emptiness, but for one lone tree in the foreground.  A stegosaurus begins wandering aimlessly in the background, veering here and there, and when it arrives in the foreground it bonks its head on the lone tree.

  12. Jeff says:

    Actually, that Far Side comment reminded me of the Tree of Tenere (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_Tenere).

    There was once an acacia forest in the Tenere region of the Sahara, but desertification had wiped killed all of them except for this one tree – the only tree within 400km. In ’73 a drunken truck driver managed to plow into it and knock it over.

  13. Ry Jones says:

    as I often say on irc – what, am I a google proxy or something?

    blog comments are an even worse google proxy. you guys are already using a browser to get here, why not hop over to live.com and do some searching?

  14. Sven Groot says:

    I can one-up this particular bizarre monorail accident. :)

    The Schwebebahn in Wuppertal, Germany is a sort of up-side-down monorail (the cars hang from the rail instead of ride above it). In 1950 a baby elephant named Tuffi was brought on the train as a publicity stunt. It didn’t like it and jumped from the train into the river Wupper below.

    I know this because I have relatives living in Wuppertal. :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuffi (ain’t wikipedia grand?)

  15. James Higgs says:

    You should try London. This morning I was deplayed on my journey to work because of a defective *heater* on a train. In what is probably the hottest summer here for 30 years. It’s actually fine by me if the heaters aren’t working at the moment.

  16. Phil Wilson says:

    I’m with Jamie Gordon on this one. Monorail. monorail, monorail! And just to be explicit, we’re talking about the Simpson’s episode. A classic.

  17. Maurits says:

    I wonder if one train has ever crashed into itself.

    The "Monorail" episode is, of course, a spoof of this excellent film:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056262/

  18. Randolpho says:

    I just saw a picture of the accident thanks to Wendy’s flikr link, and the only thing I can say is…. WTF??!? What were the engineers smoking when they put the tracks *that* close together? It’s not like there isn’t an abundance of room right at that location…. they could have, you know, placed the tracks a few feet further apart.

    [If only there were a way to search the Internet for information about the accident. It would probably rate this article highly, since it not only has a map (and a slide show nearby), but also explains why the tracks converge at that point. -Raymond]
  19. Jon says:

    It shouldn’t be surprising if you think about it. First of all, clearly, a one-car monorail system cannot have a collision with another car. And a collision would necessarily occur at that point which it occured, because there isn’t any other place for the monorails to collide. In fact, one could say that with less places to collide, the probability of a collision in general is greater due to lack of practice, and complacency.

    Really, it’s as surprising that they hit each other than, say, the doors going nuts and decapitating somebody (which would have to occur at one of the two stations).

  20. Puckdropper says:

    Maurits,

    Sure, just happened Friday.  Going over a hill one of the couplings gave way and the engine and one car kept going while the other two picked up speed and crashed in to the back of the first.  Of course, these are model trains but they show how it could occur.

  21. steveg says:

    Monorails, they’re so faux future. Here in Sydney walking by the monorail at night in the rain is just like being in Bladerunner — pretty cool if you’re into the sci-fi thing.

    [The Sydney monorail runs in one direction (lucky, cause it’s a small loop) and I think they have about 5 trains going at once. To take the trains on and off they have around 6 parallel tracks at one spot — the main track can slide out of the circuit to let trains park on the parallels. It’s pretty nifty.]

    http://images.google.com.au/images?q=sydney+monorail

  22. Hal O'Brien says:

    Hm.  One accident in 43 years, huh?  Talk about "unsafe at any speed."  I mean, I guess I’ll just have to buy tickets for the projected next accident in… 2049?

    steveg: Perhaps monorails are "faux future." I wouldn’t know, they seem much more tangible than storytelling about the future (any medium). From a transportation standpoint, there are pretty much only two ways to get a railbed out of suface traffic — dig, or elevate.  Isn’t it *amazing* the market has, to date, preferred the one that makes more money for big-ticket construction companies, rather than the one that returns the most bang for the buck for the customer (ie, the passengers)?

  23. jas88 says:

    "From a transportation standpoint, there are pretty much only two ways to get a railbed out of suface traffic — dig, or elevate.  Isn’t it *amazing* the market has, to date, preferred the one that makes more money for big-ticket construction companies, rather than the one that returns the most bang for the buck for the customer (ie, the passengers)?"

    Hm – *surface* rail is probably cheaper, but not out of the way of other ground traffic; as soon as you start digging tunnels, I suspect the price tag is far greater.

  24. Phil says:

    Is there something about the Seattle area that causes unusual engineering mishaps?  You already have the Tacoma Narrows bridge and that stadium that collapsed during construction, now this?  

  25. Paul A. Fischer says:

    I don’t understand why the city of Seattle don’t expand the Monorail system to cover the citys mass transit problems. The Monorail has been doing a good job with the short line they aready run.

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