LA Times On Metrolink Grade Crossing Safety

Sep 26th, 2009 | Posted by

by Rafael

The LA Times has published an article on Metrolink’s safety record, charting the 244 grade crossings deaths on its far-flung network over the past 15 years. On average, that works out to more than one a month.


Source: LA Times Sep 26 2009

While it is true that Metrolink has suffered safety lapses, most notoriously the case of a train engineer who was texting on a cell phone when he should have been paying attention to trackside signals at Chatsworth, it is also true that the agency has to operate on a shoestring budget. The article complains bitterly about a corporate culture that supposedly prioritizes ridership growth over grade crossing safety, comparing it to MTA. That agency is far better funded precisely because it has higher ridership. Metrolink is caught in a Catch-22.

The article also cites the example of a confused elderly lady driver who made a right turn at the Buena Vista Street intersection in Burbank. When the crossing gate came down on her car, she panicked and stepped on the accelerator. Tragically, she was killed in the ensuing train crash. Metrolink concluded it was a clear case of driver error and have made only minimal changes to the intersection in response to the fatality. Without additional public funding, there’s not a whole lot it can do.

Up in the SF peninsula, Caltrain has a program for rail safety enforcement, but this public outreach effort hasn’t made a significant dent in the grim statistics. It seems that in addition to suicidal persons, there will always be a small contingent of motorists who either don’t know how to behave at railroad grade crossings or flout the rules.

What both commuter rail services have run up against is that the only proven way to eliminate or at least massively reduce grade crossing fatalities is full grade separation plus sturdy fences for the rail corridor.

Caltrans did promise to grade separate the aforementioned Buena Vista Street in Burbank against the single rail track in the context of a project to widen I-5, but that’s just one one grade crossing among hundreds. Elsewhere in Southern California, a large number of grade crossings were eliminated or had their rail traffic sharply reduced by the Alameda Corridor project. More are either planned or under construction in the context of the Alameda Corridor East project in the San Gabriel Valley. For its part, OCTA is lobbying Congress to close a funding gap for 19 new grade separations on the BNSF Transcon line in Orange County, a critical artery for getting goods in and out of the LA and Long Beach harbors.

One of the reasons the California HSR project is so expensive is that it will feature all-new fully grade separated tracks. In the SF peninsula, part of the Central Valley and in the Lancaster-Anaheim section of the Metrolink service network, the starter line will run immediately next to existing regional and commuter as well as freight trains. While AB3034, the bill made law by the passage of prop 1A(2008) last November, does not explicitly require CHSRA to grade separate any but the HSR tracks, also including adjacent tracks for legacy services should be a high priority wherever that is technically and economically feasible and, it is not already done or planned in another context.

Voters/taxpayers should demand nothing less, even if it doing so entails exercising strictly limited and generous eminent domain against a relatively small numbers of businesses and home owners. This applies in Fullerton just as much as it does in the SF peninsula, Fresno, Bakersfield and elsewhere in the state. The benefits extend well beyond safety, e.g. to rail corridor capacity, reduced dependence on oil in the transportation sector plus the elimination of train horns and warning bells.

  1. Robert Cruickshank
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 16:49
    #1

    Excellent write-up, Rafael. The LAT article is a very strong and clear explanation of the absurdity of operating a major passenger rail system without grade separations. Those who quite rightly are frustrated and concerned at this safety record should demand investment in grade separations, and provide the funds to SCRRA to implement them.

    The HSR project will indeed provide grade separations on a vast number of these targeted crossings. I expect the LAT and other critics of Metrolink to strongly support funding grade separation projects.

  2. Anonymous
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 16:52
    #2

    California does not have to spend BILLIONS for the frivolous addition of high speed rail, when what they REALLY need to do is spend MILLIONS on grade separated crossings.

    Yes, lets spend money on grade separated crossings, we don't need high speed rail to get that done – its just another false selling point the HSR huggers try to shove down our throats.

  3. Peter
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 17:09
    #3

    @ Anonymous

    You're cute. Somehow you think that (a) grade separations will be funded minus HSR funding, and that (b) the amount needed for grade separated crossings for HSR would cost anything less than the grade separations for just commuter rail.

  4. Spokker
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 17:52
    #4

    "Those who quite rightly are frustrated and concerned at this safety record should demand investment in grade separations"

    It depends on the street, the speed of the train and the traffic on the street. Saying "all grade crossings are bad" is missing the point completely.

    HSR definitely reaches a threshold where all grade crossings need to be separated. Metrolink surely has some crossings that could use some separation, but not all of them absolutely need it.

    At the end of the day, a lot of these accidents are suicides or careless individuals who would have killed themselves in some other stupid way.

    Rafael's post on this issue is as flawed as anything FixExpo in LA has to say about at-grade rail.

  5. Spokker
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 17:56
    #5

    Even Japan, whose cock we love to suck on here, has at-grade rail crossings. Come on, it entirely depends on context and the situation each grade crossing finds itself in.

  6. Peter
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:02
    #6

    Well, under FRA regs, I believe any crossing with trains going over 125 mph HAS to be grade-separate.

  7. Fred Martin
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:03
    #7

    Outside of tunnels, grade separations are the most expensive element of building HSR. A single major grade separation can cost $100 million or more.

    It's also what makes HSR-building very similar to highway-building. PB and HNTB design and build highways too. Same techniques are used to build grade separations for roads or rail.

  8. jim
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:04
    #8

    One thing I have a problem with is characterizing the trespasser strikes and grade crossing fatalities as part of "metrolink's safety record"

    When it doesn't have anything to do with metrolink's safety.

    Train do not jump off tracks and chase people down the street.

    If people walk in front of a train on purpose or by accident, (and there is really no such thing as by accident because railroad property is private property and even blind people know that trains runs on tracks) then it is not metrolinks safety that is to be called into question, unless they failed to make it clear that the area in question was in fact an active railroad.

    When some one drive around crossing gates with flashing red lights and bells, and get's smacked by a train at 79mph and dragged to their death in a cloud of dust and debris and no one on the train is injured. That is not a metrolink safety issue that is some dumbasses' safety issue.
    Let's just keep that straight.

    Now if we the taxpayers find it worthwhile to invest a shitload of money to protect the dumbass from his dubassedness, then we can certainly do that. But let's keep the facts straight.

  9. Peter
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:05
    #9

    Oh right, and according to CPUC, any rail line crossing a road with 3 (or 4?) tracks has to be grade-separated.

  10. jim
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:14
    #10

    More than 43,000 auto accident deaths and 2.5 million injuries in traffic accidents occurred across the United States in 2006. Over half of the people who died in those accidents weren't wearing a seat belt." (note the example of dumbassedness expressed in that last sentence)

    in california the number is around 3500, I suppose that's caltrans' fault.

  11. Peter
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:19
    #11

    @ Jim

    Amen.

  12. Andrew
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 18:40
    #12

    @Spokker:

    It's true. Of course there are several of them where I live out in the country, but I was shocked to find an at-grade crossing smack in the middle of central Osaka.

  13. Anonymous
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 19:02
    #13

    @jim

    Amen, brother. Metro-North in New York has grade crossings outside of its busiest areas (i.e. southern Westchester and the New Haven Line); double-tracked areas in northern Westchester and single track lines in Connecticut that see up to 40 trains a day have grade crossings. As long as Metro-North maintains the gates and lights, there are no problems. Other railroads (i.e. Amtrak) in the area also have no problems with crossing accidents.

    I guess in New York and Connecticut, drivers don't have a problem waiting for the train to pass. In fact, getting hit by train accidentally is very rare. People also have no patience for those who ignore the gates or don't pay attention, as it causes delays for thousands of train passengers. I won't even say what people on the trains say about the "jumpers" (suicide victims) after they jump in front of a train, but believe me, it's always pretty nasty.

  14. Spokker
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 19:05
    #14

    Here's a crossing that you might think about grade separating, lol.

    Features California's very own Pacific Surfliner. This crossing definitely needs to be redesigned at the very least, and I would be surprised if it wasn't.

  15. Anonymous
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 19:22
    #15

    Peter, you have a comprehension problem, so let me be more clear. The grade separations for 2 tracks cost less than the grade separations for 4 tracks, primarily due to the impacts on the surrounding community (width/lenth/approach/eminent domain takings, surrounding street remodeling, etc) its a smaller more contained event for two tracks.

    HOwever, EVEN if you assume the grade separation costs the exact same either way – what you DON"T NEED to pay for is HSR. Grade separate without HSR and you save BILLIONs – spend the same MILLIONS on grade separations, and you save BILLIONS in HSR capital expend.

    Why in the world would you say that Caltrain can't qualify for federal grants on their own? AFterall they just applied for a buttload of federal funding for Caltrain improvements, with NO HSR in sight. The monumental joke on YOU is that Caltrain IS going to get its work done, and there ISN'T going to be any HSR to follow. Won't that be a hoot.

  16. Voice of America
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 19:41
    #16

    We are going to build a great HSR network..WE voted for it..WE WON FUCK YOU..leave if you dont like it..Move to AZ with old man Maccain

  17. jim
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 19:48
    #17

    I have more compassion for the suicide person than the idiots who can't wait 60 seconds for the train to pass. ( I know suicide is considered to be selfish, but, I can't help but think how bad some one must feel that they would step in front of a train.)

    I think people in the northeast though, have more common sense when it comes to other issues though than californians. I don't like their pushiness, but, they seem to have less tolerance for nonsense.
    Californians are a little slow, a little wishy washy, and probably get eaten alive if they move back east. I wouldn't even try it myself.

    (I'm guessing californians are probably bigger crybabies than new yorkers)

    Nevertheless, grade crossings for the sake of better operations makes sense. The same way pedestrians and bikes are not allowed on freeways.

  18. jim
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 19:49
    #18

    Voice of America said…
    "We are going to build a great HSR network..WE voted for it..WE WON FUCK YOU..leave if you dont like it..Move to AZ with old man Maccain"

    lol damn. hehe. that made me laugh.

  19. Anonymous
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 20:03
    #19

    No, rather than move to Arizona and give up MY lifetime neighborhood, and the schools I BUILT with MY TAX DOLLARS, what I'm going to do is notify all the democrats I voted for and contributed money to, letting them know that I will revolt, and spend double triple quadruple (or whatever it takes) the amount of money and time that I spent getting them elected, on getting politicians elected that will reject this HSR crap. Republicans? – if that's what it takes. Yes, that's right, its THAT important. HSR is a litmus test issue, and politicians that are on the wrong side of this issue are on the wrong side of the election. Period. Now that Obama is in the whitehouse I know that abortion rights are safe for the next 8 years, my votes go to the most prudent decision makers on the HSR issue. (And by the way, you think Nimby's are all about driving their kids to soccer? think again)

  20. jim
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 20:12
    #20

    @ anon

    oh no!

  21. Voice of America
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 20:14
    #21

    I could give A Fuck about rich pigs in PA and Menlo Park..you moved next to a railroad Moron..40 years ago or 4..You type are like the Aholes that moved next to my brother in laws farm and complain that little Abe and Shash cough because he plows his fields..Guess what ..MOVE there is a railroad next to you

  22. Clem
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 20:23
    #22

    The grade separations for 2 tracks cost less than the grade separations for 4 tracks, primarily due to the impacts on the surrounding community (width/lenth/approach/eminent domain takings, surrounding street remodeling, etc) its a smaller more contained event for two tracks.

    Anon, that's a misconception.

    The incremental cost of adding 2 tracks to a grade separation structure is small, as long as it's designed like that from the outset. (Another way of saying that 2-track grade seps are very expensive, too.) The additional width is about 30 feet, most often fully contained within railroad ROW. The road approaches to a grade separation can be hundreds of feet long, so an extra 30 feet of rail width is just a drop in the bucket.

    Basically, two equals four.

  23. NONIMBYS
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 20:26
    #23

    Really Naida???? how much did you spend…O wait ITS PUBLIC INFO

  24. Anonymous
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 21:27
    #24

    The incremental cost of adding 2 tracks to a grade separation structure is small, as long as it's designed like that from the outset.

    Then let's add another 2 tracks to the four tracks conceived and go for six tracks! You can never be sure how much capacity we will need!!! Let's play it safe. Hey, it's incrementally cheap!

    While a 4-track grade separation may not be twice the cost of a 2-track grade separation, it can still be substantially more in cost. It depends on the physical layout of the crossing, but going for more width can create more complicated and expensive design), especially when Caltrain service is supposed to be maintained and ROW is tight. Furthermore, it can stir up NIMBY opposition further, and dealing with NIMBY opposition has a pricetag to be encountered as well.

  25. Travis ND
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 22:00
    #25

    So anti-HSR-Anonymous. You would prefer spending billions on freeway widening and airport expansions?

    Or do people just teleport in whatever alternate reality you spend most of your time in?

  26. Spokker
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 22:52
    #26

    "I have more compassion for the suicide person than the idiots who can't wait 60 seconds for the train to pass. ( I know suicide is considered to be selfish, but, I can't help but think how bad some one must feel that they would step in front of a train.)"

    True, but it still isn't the best reason to grade separate an at-grade crossing. The suicidal person will find a way to kill themselves if they really wanted to.

    The LA Times piece is just shameless fear mongering.

  27. Fred Martin
    Sep 26th, 2009 at 23:22
    #27

    How about addressing our over-abundance of transportation capacity by simply making better use of what we have? We do a terrible job of managing the existing capacity, which has been provided and maintained at great public expense. Look at all the single-occupant drivers! A gross inefficiency. Instead of building expensive new "highways for trains", let's incrementally improve existing conventional rail corridors. HSR in other countries is an maturation of a well-established passenger rail system. In the US, we're putting the cart before the horse. If incrementally improved rail corridors become heavily used — if — then they can be improved incrementally further. These massive expenditures based on lousy analysis and cozy political deals is a recipe for disaster. We need to break away from the highway mentality, of which HSR is very much a part.

    Safety was a big selling point in promoting the grade separations that make highways different from regular roads. It doesn't necessarily make them wise investments. Basic traffic controls are much better investments for road safety, as are better grade crossing controls.

    It is precisely because concrete-pushers PB and HNTB are struggling to grand airport and highway projects to work on that they think they can still build their profitable grade separations with HSR.

  28. josh
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 01:44
    #28

    I have nothing to add but a link to this level-crossing safety video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekpD06P7kiI

  29. 無名 – wu ming
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 02:01
    #29

    making one of these for the caltrain corridor would be great. as a clueless out-of-townie, i came very close to getting my ass run over by caltrain a couple years back. totally in the wrong, but when it's grade-separated, you can't even do dumb dangerous things.

  30. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 02:42
    #30

    Point of order ladies and gents:

    Comments containing F-bombs, C-bombs etc. are subject to deletion on sight from now on.

    Robert and I provide this public forum for substantive discussion of the issues, we expect you to moderate your language accordingly. Don't let the trolls goad you.

    You know who you are, I hope this warning is sufficient to exercise the better part of valor. I've got better things to do than play kindergarten cop.

  31. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 03:29
    #31

    @ spokker -

    I agree with you that some grade crossing separations are more urgent than others. Since money doesn't grow on trees, priorities have to be set.

    My main beef right now is with CHSRA's apparent decision to construct – at great expense – a couple of short bored tunnels for HSR trains only in a section of Fullerton where the right of way is currently only 50' wide. If this decision stands, it will mean the legacy tracks for FRA-compliant trains will never be grade separated.

    OCTA plans to increase Metrolink service between Fullerton and Laguna Miguel in the next few years, such that those tracks will soon carry 146 trains total every weekday. For reference, that's roughly 50% more than the Caltrain corridor carries today.

  32. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 05:26
    #32

    In related news: the Modesto Bee, which had earlier recommended a No vote on prop 1A(2008), now supports CHSRA's decision to seek $4.5 billion in federal stimulus funds.

    The key arguments: some of that money would be spent in the Central Valley and, full grade separations there will have public safety benefits even if the full $33 billion needed to complete the starter line could not be scraped together in due course.

  33. Spokker
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:08
    #33

    "If this decision stands, it will mean the legacy tracks for FRA-compliant trains will never be grade separated."

    The LOSSAN corridor that runs through the City of Fullerton is already fully grade separated.

    The first grade crossing East of Fullerton station is in Anaheim at Orangethorpe. The first grade crossing West of Fullerton station is in Santa Fe Springs at Valley View Ave.

    Are you talking about Anaheim? They haven't made a decision to construct a tunnel there. At-grade is still on the table.

  34. Spokker
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:10
    #34

    "Comments containing F-bombs, C-bombs etc. are subject to deletion on sight from now on."

    Oh great, we're children now.

  35. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:12
    #35

    @ Fred Martin -

    "Look at all the single-occupant drivers!"

    California has plenty of carpool lanes. It also has some of the highest aggregate taxes on gasoline, though the level remains far below those in Japan and Europe. Even there, single-occupant cars are the norm during rush hour.

    The bottom line is that those who commute by car overwhelmingly prefer to do so by driving alone. It's not clear to me how you propose to increase the attractiveness of carpooling.

    High speed rail is not intended as a commuter service, though there will be a certain contingent of long-distance commuters that choose to live in e.g. Fresno, Bakersfield and Palmdale and work in Silicon Valley and LA/Orange County, respectively.

    Many have commented that improvements to commuter transit ought to have priority over HSR. However, this is to some extent a false choice. HSR finally bring improvements such as full grade separation to Caltrain and part of the Metrolink network. In addition, voters also endorsed every county-level transit project on the November ballot, i.e. Measure R in LA, the BART extension to Santa Clara and SMART up in Sonoma/Marin. The HSR project did not prompt voters to make an either/or decision.

    The $950 million reserved for capital improvements for "HSR feeder services" via prop 1A(2008) reinforces that regional rail in particular will serve a double function: commuting plus connecting service for HSR passengers.

    Growing rail ridership at all distances is essential not just to tackle the ever-worsening congestion on key freeways. It is also essential for getting local planners to rethink long-established priorities and promote the development of walkable neighborhoods and new/expanded networks of bicycle lanes and paths.

  36. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:18
    #36

    @ Spokker -

    I was referring to the northern end of the section connecting Fullerton to Anaheim ARTIC. If that's technically within Anaheim city limits, my apologies for the lack of precision.

    If at-grade is still an option there, I'm relieved. I had heard that the tunnels were a done deal, which would not only increase the already-high cost of the LA-Anaheim segment but also give succor to SF peninsula residents seeking a much longer four-track tunnel serving HSR, Caltrain and UPRR.

    It may be politically unpalatable to Curt Pringle personally, but CHSRA must hold the line on cost escalations via tunnels in suburbia or the entire project will collapse under its own weight. In addition, it would be foolish not to grade separate a stretch of legacy track that is about to see a massive increase in rail traffic, especially if doing so is cheaper than tunneling.

  37. jim
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:39
    #37

    Just as the denier overlook or can't comprehend the exponential economic benefits that hsr will bring, they also have a hard time seeing the broader transportation benefits. They can't get passed the "x number of air paassengers between sf and la" type of arguments. etc.

    If you know intuitively how things proceed in california, you know that what will happen is that hsr will provide a new core system, and that local and regional transport will, even before expanding, arrange itself in conjunction with hsr and then continue to expand after that.

    One hsr is up a dn running and proven to be reliable, local agencies in city served by hsr will re work some of their existing local transport, to coordinate with hsr to provide links with neighboring cities and for long distance travel.
    Some of this can be down without additional money, in some cases local agencies can save money, and some cases it creates and incentive for local taxpayers to invest more in the local system.

    This happened with bart. of course it took years and years with bart in the bay area because it was fairly new concept but nowadays it will happen right away, with local planning begining even before trains run.

    Its a long term process. The economic benefits and the transportation benefits will be realized to some extent, right away, but more importantly, over the long run, there will be a reliable base upon which communities can build, be it transport related or business/ industry related.

    Now I don't know anything, but I do know that cuz after 45 years in cali, I can guarantee you thats exactly how they do it.

  38. Anonymous
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 12:06
    #38

    Travis, you're drinking the Koolaid – the freeways and airports aren't going away with HSR – trains move only in straight lines. Unless you live IN a train station, then you'll ALWAYS find yourself on a road after the train. HSR is just a proposition to TRIPLICATE the raping of our openspace lands and neighborhoods with a new and ultra luxurious (ultra selfish) form transportation superhighway.

    Single occupancy drivers? Right you are, because people need to get to places. And whats needed (and what is now on the cusp of this green revolution) is single occupancy, alternative energy cars. The traffic congestion isn't created by long distance travlers, its created by short distance commuters. And HSR proponents are apparently too schizophrenic to stick to their OWN story that HSR is meant NOT to replace commute, but to CREATE MORE long distance travel. We serve our environemnt and are scarce mass transit budgets better by making better use of our highways, by reinventing the automobile, and improving rail for greener ways of transporting goods over long distances.

    HSR is a bloated expensive novelty idea that uses all the right buzz word PR, and attempts to play in to all the fears of today (gas crisis, global warming, TOD) while being NOTHING by the opposite of what it claims, and in fact is nothing but the poster child for conspicuous consumption.

  39. Peter
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 13:24
    #39

    I understand that people will continue to do stupid things in cars at grade crossings, but I know that a lot of people that go around the gates and get smashed think that the gates failed in the down position because one train has already gone past. I like the British lights warning you that ANOTHER train is in fact coming. Any way we could get those installed?

  40. Peter
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 13:36
    #40

    @ Anon 1:06

    Talk about tossing around buzzwords: "bloated", "novelty".

    Also, in case you haven't bothered to read this blog before, NO ONE is claiming that people will be giving up their cars because of HSR. To claim that would be ludicrous. It will instead be an affordable, highly safe and very efficient way to travel between not just San Francisco and LA, but between any of the cities in between.

    HSR will, however, relieve not just road congestion, but also AIR congestion.

    It will be an effective and attractive ALTERNATIVE to driving or flying to and from the cities on the route.

    And, btw, replacing single-occupancy commuters in gasoline vehicles with single-occupancy commuters in alternative energy cars won't do diddly to relieve congestion. It'll just mean that the air will be slightly cleaner while you sit in traffic.

    HSR will enable Caltrain to add even greater congestion relief along its corridor with greater capacity and shorter times-in-transit.

    Even BART to Santa Clara (if ever completed) will decrease congestion.

    So chill out and do some research in some reputable, scientific sources before running your mouth.

  41. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 13:45
    #41

    @ Peter -

    afaik, warning lights and bells keep going until the last train has passed. It's just that some motorists are impatient. Plus, those bells are so annoying they may induce a flight response. IMHO, they actually reduce grade crossing safety.

    In corridors with sufficient rail traffic volume to worry about multiple trains running through in short order, the objective ought to be full grade separation anyhow.

  42. Peter
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 14:38
    #42

    @ Rafael

    I understand that the gates stay down. I was wondering if it would help in any way to put up signs warning that ANOTHER train is coming if the gates stay down and the lights and bells stay on.

  43. Peter
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 14:42
    #43

    Keeping in mind, of course, that no one ever looks at signs. Maybe it would help decrease Caltrain's liability…

  44. Rafael
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 15:03
    #44

    @ Peter -

    the focus should be on avoiding accidents not liability. For Caltrain, the whole thing will be moot before long thanks to full grade separation. There might be some value to improving safety during the construction period, especially if shoofly tracks on public roads are used.

    Elsewhere, one option would be to replace flashing red lights with a clock counting down the seconds until the gates are expected to open back up. The signaling is aware of when trains pass control points and operators know the speed at which they are supposed to do so. A few seconds extra could be added as a buffer, usually the gates would open early.

  45. Peter
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 15:24
    #45

    I like the timer idea. Are Caltrain's trains equipped with GPS that is uplinked to a central location? This would likely be the easiest way to get that info to the timers at the gates…

    I also understand that the focus should be on reducing accidents. But in today's sue-first-ask-questions-later world, Caltrain needs to do whatever it can to reduce its liability.

  46. Clem
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 16:22
    #46

    There might be some value to improving safety during the construction period

    I suppose that's exactly why they are rushing to install PTC using their custom one-of-a-kind non-standard solution.

    especially if shoofly tracks on public roads are used.

    You're funny! Ha ha!

  47. Adirondacker12800
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 19:25
    #47

    The signaling is aware of when trains pass control points and operators know the speed at which they are supposed to do so.

    What happens when they don't?

    I like the timer idea. Are Caltrain's trains equipped with GPS that is uplinked to a central location?

    Timers would make the crossings less safe.

    Does the timer mean it's X seconds until the train comes or it's X seconds until the gates come up? What happens when a train that was moving at 40 MPH slows down unexpectedly and the count goes up? What happens when a train that has ten seconds left until the gates comes up and the second train enters the control area? A long explanatory sign under the timer isn't much help while the automobile is in motion.

    The people who jump the gates now are the ones who don't understand crossings. Adding a timer to that just gives them one more warning to ignore. What do you do about the the trains that are five seconds apart from triggering the gates etc. The timer for the one going north expires 5 seconds before the train coming south triggers the gates, bells and lights? The Darwin Award competitor who has decided to go around the gates because there's only 5 seconds left then gets trapped on the tracks when the crossing arm for the opposite side comes down on the hood of the automobile.

    …and why would a railroad need GPS to do any of this. Could probably be done with relays and and Nixie tubes.

    I was wondering if it would help in any way to put up signs warning that ANOTHER train is coming if the gates stay down and the lights and bells stay on

    And who gets sued when the bulb behind the sign burns out and the Darwin Award runner-up sets out to prove he really should have been in first place?

    I suppose that's exactly why they are rushing to install PTC using their custom one-of-a-kind non-standard solution.

    But California is special and things that work all over the world wouldn't work in a place that's so very special. :-)

  48. Andy D
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 21:32
    #48
  49. J
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 21:43
    #49

    Has anyone studied how much taxpayer money in liability and other costs will be saved by burying the Caltrain and CHSR tracks underground? It's not just the accidental pedestrian and car versus train incidents or the suicides (who can put a value on the life of a loved one?). Last week I stopped for a train, and the car behind me was rear-ended by an inattentive driver. Backups, traffic accidents, and holdups on surrounding streets caused by train crossings cost us time and money in many ways, most of them largely unaccounted for. These enormous costs, as well as train noise and pollution would be eliminated (not simply mitigated) by burying the tracks. And instead of some divisive “grade separator” (read: impenetrable, tall barrier), we could reclaim our land and unite, rather than further divide, our cities. We’re spending too much on this project for too little benefit as it is. Let’s do it right and bury the tracks. I for one think its worth it (although I seriously doubt the total cost is any greater, all things considered). I am interested in hearing others’ views.

  50. matt
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 22:35
    #50

    @J: Last I heard the peninsula route was going to be penetrable. I think that is the whole point of elevating it, ya know, so the cars can go under.

    Currently people are not supposed to be crossing the tracks except the designated crossings, where they will be able to cross…so don't act like people are losing mobility because of the HSR route.

    As for tunnel vs. elevated…both should have no liability for grade accidents since there is no grade crossing….and that is what this post was about.

  51. jim
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 22:45
    #51

    people who go around gates and get hit by trains don't read signs, clocks, timers, or anything else, you could put a dancing elephant in a pink tutu out there and they'd still get run over.

    Theses are the same people who look at you standing next to a clock on the wall, and ask you what time it is.

    Okay if you ever grew up in the country, and you had cats, country cats, that kinds that always have a batch of kittens around, then you know how some of the kittens and cats, are really sharp, they hunt, they're quick, they're chatty, etc,
    and some of the cats, just sit on the porch and stare like those inbred or sort downs syndrome hillbilly types, I don't know what you call it exaclty. well people are just like those cats.

    Some of them are quick, thinking, sharp individuals, and some of them, just aren't.

    …those are the ones who get run over by trains.

  52. jim
    Sep 27th, 2009 at 22:48
    #52

    here's the thought process..

    " the gates are down and the lights are flashing and trains are really big and they smash things so therefore I should drive around the gates"

    now, do you see the disconnect? In my day we called that having a screw loose.

  53. Travis ND
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 04:01
    #53

    "Travis, you're drinking the Koolaid – the freeways and airports aren't going away with HSR"

    I never said they would. But massive expansions of them might be avoided.

    "trains move only in straight lines."

    So Tron is a big part of the alternate universe you come from?

    "Unless you live IN a train station, then you'll ALWAYS find yourself on a road after the train."

    Well, unless you took BART, the MTA or a bus to that station. But even if you did drive, short trips to a station is better than long trips to another city.

    "HSR is just a proposition to TRIPLICATE the raping of our openspace lands and neighborhoods with a new and ultra luxurious (ultra selfish) form transportation superhighway."

    How is HSR "raping" openspace and neighborhoods? How is it "selfish?"

    "Single occupancy drivers? Right you are, because people need to get to places. And whats needed (and what is now on the cusp of this green revolution) is single occupancy, alternative energy cars."

    Uh, so we'll end up with huge clogged freeways full of very clean cars.

    "The traffic congestion isn't created by long distance travlers, its created by short distance commuters."

    I take it you've never driven over the Grapevine, been in SFO or LAX.

    "And HSR proponents are apparently too schizophrenic to stick to their OWN story that HSR is meant NOT to replace commute, but to CREATE MORE long distance travel."

    Particular elements of CAHSR will help with commute traffic however I find your idea that it will "create more long distance travel" to be a claim worth substantiating.

    "We serve our environemnt and are scarce mass transit budgets better by making better use of our highways, by reinventing the automobile, and improving rail for greener ways of transporting goods over long distances."

    No one is suggesting that urban mass transit be ignored. Both should be pursued at the same time. As for greener ways to move long distances…..what is better at that than HSR?

    "HSR is a bloated expensive novelty idea that uses all the right buzz word PR, and attempts to play in to all the fears of today (gas crisis, global warming, TOD) while being NOTHING by the opposite of what it claims, and in fact is nothing but the poster child for conspicuous consumption."

    I take it you have some evidence that it isn't useful and environmentally friendly while being a "poster child" for conspicuous consumption or are YOU the one that's drunk some Koolaid?

  54. Peter
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 07:59
    #54

    @ Jim

    You're assuming there is any sort of thought process involved other than "OMG! I'm late for my hair appointment! Can't be delayed by anything!"

    I think we should simply play the video from Top Gear you posted at every crossing on infinite loop.

  55. Peter
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 08:05
    #55

    About GPS use.

    I come from the aviation field where GPS is seen as the creme-de-la-creme for navigation AND as the future basis for air traffic control.

    I guess that it wouldn't be as useful in railroading, since it requires line-of-sight to both receive the satellite signal and to send information back to ground stations. Unless you want to use a satellite to receive and relay the positional information, I agree that GPS would not be a good solution.

  56. jim
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 08:13
    #56

    @ anon Yes, lets spend money on grade separated crossings, we don't need high speed rail to get that done – its just another false selling point the HSR huggers try to shove down our throats

    Its a vast conspiracy designed to make you mad.

  57. Anonymous
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 08:19
    #57

    Grade separation can be best achieved by relocating the hsr to freeway alignments. Tunnels in most instances are too expensive but elevateds are blighting. Freeways are de facto blighted so no problem there.

    Reconfiguring the freeways to accomodate the hsr is a price worth paying. It is an idea that can be sold to motorists because the passengers on the hsr trains would otherwise be in cars on those very same freeeways they are following. HSR along freeways is the the equivalent of adding freeway lanes but much more environmentally friendly

  58. Peter
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 08:33
    #58

    Ahh, once again, the "Build HSR on the Freeways" theory. And with a novel (?) argument.

    So, while locating HSR on the freeways would grade-separate HSR, it would do nada to grade-separate Caltrain. Who's going to pony up the money for that?

    How, pray tell me, will Caltrain get the funding or electrification without HSR? Hint: They can't.

    How are you going to build stations on the median? How are people going to access the stations?

    These questions have all already been hashed out, and simply restating your claim doesn't do anything to change the result.

    And btw, are you trying to argue that the Caltrain ROW is not "pre-blighted"?

  59. Rafael
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 09:18
    #59

    @ anon @ 9:19am -

    HSR is feasible in freeway medians provided they're available, wide enough, flat enough and straight enough. Chances are that most of the LA-San Diego segment will leverage freeway medians – because there's no other choice.

    In the SF peninsula, the 101 median is not available. Giving up traffic lanes would mean robbing Peter to pay Paul and unlikely to meet with approval from Caltrans.

    50 miles of aerial structures, including many extra-tall (50') sections where trains would fly over existing road overpasses, would cost as much or more than upgrading the Caltrain ROW yet do nothing for that commuter railroad. The visual and noise impacts would be nonzero, though less contentious.

    Keep in mind that Santa Clara county has not and will not cough up its 500 million share of Caltrain electrification if HSR falls through. Its top priority is the BART extension because large numbers of commuters into San Jose and Santa Clara hail from the East Bay. Without Caltrain electrification, the Transbay Terminal Center in SF makes no sense.

  60. Anonymous
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 12:23
    #60

    Without Caltrain electrification, the Transbay Terminal Center in SF makes no sense.

    The Transbay Terminal Center makes vastly more sense that the San Jose Diridon station, regardless of whether Caltrain electrification happens or not. Unlike Diridon, the TTC has actually financed itself through property redevelopment. It makes obvious sense to connect rail to the TTC, but it is actually viable without it. Compare that to the proposed Diridon mega-station that appears to just be seeking public funds to enshrine Rod Diridoni.

  61. neroden@gmail
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 14:31
    #61

    Really ought to do the four-track (or wider in places if appropriate) Burbank – LA Union trench ASAP. Many of the major grade crossing accidents, needed for HSR, two Metrolink lines and Amtrak on the same corridor, no arguments regarding location.

  62. Rafael
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 15:08
    #62

    @ anon @ 1:23pm -

    without rail tracks, the TTC is nothing more than a super-expensive bus terminal. It wouldn't implement prop H(1999) and it wouldn't achieve the passenger throughput required to revitalize that part of town.

    It's laudable that SF has scraped together the funding for the extra-fancy above-ground portion but other cities – including SJ – will also have to open their wallets if they want extravagant stations.

  63. J
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 20:16
    #63

    No one has answered my question about what the liability and other costs currently are that are being paid by taxpayers due to incidents caused by the grade-level nature of many crossings currently in place. Many responders are assuming that a grade-elevated solution will result in equally diminished liability and costs to a tunneled solution. Does anyone have a study on that? I find that hard to fathom given the visual presence an elevated train would continue to present to drivers and to troubled teens and others looking for a fence to hop to commit suicide. I am interested in any data that might bear on my hypothesis.

    What I have heard is Jim complain that people who die at crossings deserve to die. Putting aside whether such an assessment is accurate or fair, it misses the point of my post entirely. Regardless of how deserving the victims are or how much fault you would like to subscribe to them, the train and other agencies face liability from lawyers who can always think of creative lawsuits to bring. Witnesses to these accidents are left emotionally scarred and dazed for days or even months. These are real costs that are divorced from whatever Darwinian pleasure some appear to take from these tragedies.

    I also hear Matt suggesting that a barrier would be no more divisive than the current grade-level crossings. My point was that a visually impenetrable wall will visually and psychologically divide communities much more effectively than they are currently. Matt’s suggestion also misunderstands the fundamental renaissance in “mobility” and connectedness which would be permitted should the tracks be buried. (Peter’s comment about the Caltrain ROW already being “pre-blighted” in the same way as 101 makes the same mistake. 101 is cutoff almost completely from surrounding neighborhoods by tall soundwalls. Much of the current Caltrain route has nothing remotely this imposing around it.

    Finally, some have responded to suggestions for alternatives to the current de facto plan with questions such as, “who is going to pay for it,” or “how are we going to get people to the stations”? These are good questions, but they apply equally to any of these alternatives. Electrifying Caltrain will take a serious slice out of the budget. And getting people from home to station to destination and back will remain a challenge. Advocates of CHSR need to understand that the fight is not over. The proposition victory was a big step forward, but many battles remain, and if constituents’ and politicians’ questions aren’t answered satisfactorily, the vision will never be realized.

  64. jim
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 22:25
    #64

    @rafael "without rail tracks, the TTC is nothing more than a super-expensive bus terminal. It wouldn't implement prop H(1999) and it wouldn't achieve the passenger throughput required to revitalize that part of town"

    rafael, now you know all you are doing is taunting me when you say things like that. I'l let it slide this time cuz I'm too tired. :-)

  65. Anonymous
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 22:27
    #65

    The hsr trains on 101 would not flyover the freeway overpasses but the contrary. You have to raise the highway overpasses. Some of them are high enough already. If they were to doubledeck the freeway to gain capacity they would need to raise these overpasses anyway.

  66. jim
    Sep 28th, 2009 at 22:41
    #66

    @ J What I have heard is Jim complain that people who die at crossings deserve to die. Putting aside whether such an assessment is accurate or fair, it misses the point of my post entirely

    as you missed the point of my posts as well. At no point did I say anyone "deserved to die"

    What I said was,

    a) its not metrolinks fault if someone goes around a gate and gets hit or commits suicide.

    b) people who don't pay attention do a,b and c, aren't going to pay attention to d,e,and f either because that's the kind of people they are,

    and
    c) again: here's the thought process..

    " the gates are down and the lights are flashing and trains are really big and they smash things so therefore I should drive around the gates"

    now, do you see the disconnect? In my day we called that having a screw loose.

    Its like blaming the sf zoo for the death of the drunk guys who taunted the tiger at the sf zoo and got gobbled up or the guy who climbed into the grizzly bear exhibit this weekend at the sf zoo.

    Saying it's their own responsibility is not saying they deserve to die. This is the type of disconnected thinking that's causing of the problems in our society.

    and I could be wrong but your concern about safety and the suggestion that burying the trains is the safe answer compared to elevating the trains, sounds an awful lot like thinly veiled PA nimbyism to me.

  67. Rafael
    Sep 29th, 2009 at 05:46
    #67

    @ J -

    grade separation + fences (incl. on overpasses) = ROW that is really hard to trespass onto. Suicidal persons may look for other ways to slip off their mortal coils or preferably, someone will reach them first so they can get the mental health care they need.

    As far as the visual barrier goes, I understand the perceptual/emotional argument. What you fail to acknowledge is that Caltrain already bisects traffic flows in the peninsula today, which is what the 98% of residents who didn't buy property immediately next to the tracks care about most.

    @ anon @ 11:27pm -

    please provide a link, e.g. via Google Maps Streetview, of a single overpass on 101 in the SF peninsula that already has 45 feet of vertical clearance today. That's how much is needed to support train tracks stacked above the fast/carpool lanes.

    Note that there is a minimum vertical curve radius for road overpasses, otherwise bigrigs would get stuck.

    If you sacrifice traffic lanes, implementation is straightforward, just dig a shallow trench at the existing overpasses to let trains pass underneath. The problem is getting Caltrans to sacrifice traffic lanes. Hell will freeze over before that happens.

  68. Alon Levy
    Sep 29th, 2009 at 11:25
    #68

    If they were to doubledeck the freeway to gain capacity they would need to raise these overpasses anyway.

    Why should they ever double-deck the freeway, other than to satisfy some highway lobbyist?

  69. Spokker
    Sep 29th, 2009 at 12:44
    #69

    Man, the LA Times has been really attacking Metrolink with articles like, "Boo-hoo my stupid wife decided to cross the tracks to save five minutes."

    I wonder what their agenda is. Highways are deadlier per passenger mile than any railroad.

  70. neroden@gmail
    Sep 29th, 2009 at 23:35
    #70

    "No one has answered my question about what the liability and other costs currently are that are being paid by taxpayers due to incidents caused by the grade-level nature of many crossings currently in place."

    Very little. Grade crossings are safer than highway intersections. Unless an accident is the fault of the train, which it essentially *never* is at grade crossings, the taxpayer pays nothing.

    Well, to be precise the taxpayer pays the legal costs of defending against frivolous lawsuits, which I think is a known number and matter of record for Metrolink. And the taxpayer pays for the hard-to-measure cost of train delays. And the taxpayer pays for train repairs when the at-fault party is destitute, which is also hard to add up. The main costs are not simple "costs to the taxpayer", they're social costs.

  71. Community Member
    Sep 30th, 2009 at 11:18
    #71

    Interesting blog. Just found it in a Google search on CA HSR. Lots of good videos and info here. It seems most articles and comments are very much in favor of hsr and some are quite vulgar and rely on stereotypes. Also, this blog seems focused on Northern CA. I live along the 15 in San Diego. They're starting public scoping meetings in October. Those of us interested in our community's futures along the 15 in SD will be attending and commenting during the EIR/S process.

    I'm not necessarily against HSR but the #s of homes and businesses between Escondido and Miramar that are less than 100' from the freeway are numerous. Go to Google maps and look for yourself. Will they do eminent domain or "mitigate" by building soundwalls and providing triple paned windows? Seems better to just tunnel and/or use existing rail tracks. You're talking about quality of life, property values, etc.

    Besides, is it really wise to do these bonds and spend all this $ on HSR right now when the Delta needs to be fixed first? Without water, there won't be any (more) passengers to ride hsr or buy the condos or work at the restaurants that hsr will demand be redeveloped at the stops. Also, I'm concerned about the overall cost and financing. I don't buy the argument that we need government spending to boost the economy. Especially, when it was the bankers, financiers, and government who got us into the mess we're in. But that's a different discussion.

  72. Sally Sullivan
    Oct 1st, 2009 at 19:38
    #72

    "I hope that "Jim's" mother or wife gets to be "elderly" and "confused" and becomes a "dumbass" like him and that she meets an unpleasant death and "Jim" remembers his words.

    If he were better educated about railroads, and if he took the time to read the article, he would learn that no warning signs faced either driver, the batery powered lights are dim and hard to see during the daylight, and that this deadly crossing is next to a very busy intersection that has big trucks that block the crossing.

    Why has it had so many accidents and most other crossings do not? The article pointed out that most accidents could be prevented if only these repeat offenders were fixed.

    Grade separations are very nice, but at $40,000,000 or more, cost too much. Europeans have effective Quad gates, traffic lights and cops have beter lights,and most of the needed safety improvements are not expensive.

    Metrolink does not need tons of federal dollars,they need to start to care,and first do a lot of simple improvements that do not cost much.

  73. James Osborn
    Oct 2nd, 2009 at 05:37
    #73

    While Rafael's posting is nice, it leaves out many of the details about the Buena Vista crossing.

    (type "Death on Rails LA TImes" into Google

    1) Caltrans has promised to do a grade separation for over 6 or 7 years, but always postpones it.
    2) No warning signs or lights are visible to turning drivers, so they do not know that they are about to cross a RR crossing. The intersection, 20 feet from the crossing, is very busy and drivers are focused upon traffic,
    3) The lights are very faint in the day, and not pointed towards turning drivers.
    4) Bumper-to-bumper traffic backs over the tracks,and no additional time is allowed for it to clear. 4 or 5 seconds after the gate descends, a 78 MPH train arrives.
    5) Burbank WAS going to install a "No Turn-Train Coming" sign, but CPUC delayed it.
    6Metrolink and Burbank ignored several simple, inexpensive, yet effective improvements to this crossing, resulting in additional deaths.
    7) Grade separations are nice, but much too expensive for most crossings. Much,much less expensive quad gates with bright LED lights and lengthened timing, as done in Germany, would make our rails much more safe.
    8) While much has been said about the train engineer in Chattsworth being distracted by text messaging, little has been said who this accident was very similar to an earlier one in Silver Spring, Maryland. If they had the second yellow warning signal AFTER or AT the station, instead of before it, He most likely would not have left the station, going around a blind curve, if he knew that he had to stop in 1/2 a mile. He would have waited and finished his texting.
    9) Most of the current Metrolink board is not up to the job of running a safe system, They hide behind PR people and lawyers, spending a lot on that instead of using the same funding to make improvements.

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