A Streetcar Named Disaster
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 national average for the nation's 17 light rail systems, according to the Federal Transit Administration.
Most of the wrecks are minor and injury-free, and the soft rubber noses on the quiet, 200-passenger trains usually don't suffer much damage.
The car drivers, leaving motorists and their insurance carriers liable for any medical costs or damage to vehicles or trains, blamed all but one of the crashes on error.
Joe Kittrell, a 65-year-old barber, is among the few people injured in a crash.
Kittrell was leaving the downtown Sears store on Dec. 19 and took an unfamiliar route when he turned left on a green light. His next memory is waking up in a hospital a day and a half later with broken ribs. He learned that a train smacked into his truck, pushing it at least 75 yards.
To this day, Kittrell insists he never saw a no-left-turn sign.
"When I was healed enough to get up, I drove from Sears all the way downtown and I could easily see no-left-turn signs and the positions of the traffic lights were changed," Kittrell said.
If current usage trends hold, weekday ridership could approach 35,000 — less than 1 percent of the metropolitan area's population — by year's end, said David Wolff, chairman of the transit authority.
He believes the wrecks will diminish with time.
"We're really making progress on this," Wolff told reporters shortly after a Wisconsin tourist notched the 50th collision by smacking his rental car into a train before baseball's All-Star game in Houston last month. "We hope you will report this as carefully as you've reported the incidents."
Why Did The Chickens Block The Road?
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - A truck carrying 8,000 live chickens flipped over on a Swedish highway Tuesday morning, sending a sea of fluttering poultry onto the road and shutting it down for more than nine hours, police said.
About one third of the chickens, on their way to be slaughtered, either died in the 4 a.m. crash or were run over by cars afterward, police spokesman Stefan Jarlhage said.
Several thousand surviving chickens were freed from their cages and covered the E6 highway, one of the main roads on the Swedish west coast, he said.
The driver of the truck received only minor injuries, Jarlhage said. No other vehicle was involved in the accident, which took place about 31 miles south of Goteborg, Sweden's second largest city. It was unclear what caused the truck to flip over.
"The driver was too shocked to be questioned by police after the crash," Jarlhage said.
The road was still closed in both directions early Tuesday afternoon as police and rescue workers tried to remove the chickens, sanitize the road and raise the truck back up so it could be towed.
He Was A Manly 'She'
COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. - The robber in the green sundress could have used a little fashion help, witnesses agreed. Police were searching Tuesday for the man who robbed a bank while wearing a woman's wig and dress.
"It was a leaf design, but muted," a woman who witnessed the holdup said of the robber's frock. "He looked a mess," said another witness.
The witnesses, whose full names weren't released by police, said the robber was obviously male, given away by his muscular leg — and the mustache.
Police Capt. Tommy McCaskill said the robber threatened a teller at a branch bank in a Kroger store in this Memphis suburb but did not show a weapon. No one was hurt.
As the robber fled, he tried to cover the mustache with one hand while grasping what police said was $4,000 in the other.
The Crying-On-The-Outside Kind Of Clown
ALTOONA, Iowa - A clown isn't finding much to smile about after someone stole his clown car. Delmer Jefferson, drove the miniature, bright yellow tow truck in parades. But on July 5, someone stole the truck from a parking lot.
"I'm heartbroken," said Jefferson, whose been a clown for the Shriners for more than 30 years. "I can't replace it. And it's not worth anything to anyone else. It's a clown car."
Police Det. Jason Ferguson said the theft is under investigation.
"This thing is so unique," Ferguson said. "What would anyone do with it?"
CHICAGO - Chicago Police said Monday they were investigating a foul-smelling gunk that showered tourists taking a boat tour of the city.
Witnesses on the Chicago's Little Lady architecture tour Sunday afternoon saw a large black tour bus dumping liquid waste as their boat cruised under the Kinzie Street bridge on the Chicago River, said Anita Pedersen, spokeswoman for the tour boat company. More than 100 passengers were on the boat when the waste poured onto the upper, open deck.
"I can only presume that perhaps it's human waste. There was a very strong smell to it," Pedersen said.
Police spokesman Carlos Herrera said police were investigating how the passengers came to be covered by the mess and exactly what it was.
Pedersen said some boat passengers wrote down partial license plate numbers of the bus.
After the incident, the boat's captain turned the vessel around so passengers could return to the dock. They all got refunds, Pedersen said.
The boat has since been cleaned with disinfectant.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago also are investigating the matter, said Illinois EPA spokesman Rob Sulski.
"We need to find out whether it was a deliberate matter or an accident," Sulski said.
Water reclamation district spokesman Lou Kollias said they had little information Monday about the incident.
Lynn Osmond, president and CEO the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which runs the tour boats along with the boat's owner, said nothing like this has ever happened before.
"I think this is a fluke and everybody understands that," Osmond said. "This is the Chicago River that we all respect and love, and hopefully this is something that will not be left to happen again."
Nearly A Cat-Tastrophe
BRUSSELS, Belgium - A Belgian airliner made an emergency landing after an agitated passenger — a cat — got into the cockpit and attacked the co-pilot, the airline said Tuesday
The SN Brussels flight from the Belgian capital to Vienna, Austria, had been in the air about 20 minutes Monday when "it was noticed" that a passenger's pet had escaped from its cage, "although it is not yet clear how," according to an airline statement.
"Once free, the animal proceeded to wander around the cabin," slipping into the cockpit when meals were being delivered to the two-man flight crew, it said.
"At this stage the animal became agitated and nervous," it said. An airline spokeswoman added that the cat scratched the copilot's arm.
The pilot decided to return to Brussels as a precaution, and the 58 passengers departed once more two hours later on another flight.
The cat had been checked in Oslo, Norway, in an internationally approved "flight transport bag," but the airline said it may end up changing its procedures for pets in the cabin once it concludes its investigation.
"At no time throughout the incident was the passengers' security affected in any way," it said.