The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reports that billions of people across the country use public transportation every day. Mass transit is economical, convenient and environmentally friendly. In San Diego alone, more than 88 million people use the Metropolitan Transit System each year, according to that agency’s website. Because of the sheer volume of people taking advantage of public transportation at any given time, a mass transit accident will often preempt any other news story.

Commuter trains, subways and light rails carry safety concerns that differ from those of other forms of public transportation. Their rail systems must be maintained for optimal safety, they typically travel at greater speeds than vehicles on roadways and they potentially carry hundreds of people at a time. The NTSB has investigated accidents involving rail mass transit and concludes that, too often, the cause is human error.

These errors may include distraction or poor judgment by a train operator, slow reaction to emergencies or failure to maintain trains and equipment. As in many commercial vehicle accidents, operator fatigue may also play a role. While the NTSB encourages improvements such as video recorders in train cabs and rail maintenance technology, human error may be that factor that no one can control but the operator himself.

With so many travelers depending on public transportation to reach their destinations, safety is a primary concern. Technology will continue to improve the safety of trains and rails, and authorities will keep finding new ways to educate operators about the importance of staying alert and aware at all times. Unfortunately, the potential for disaster involving mass transit may exist as long as humans operate the systems.