By Ted AYALA
The sound of train horns – and the danger their sound is intended to avoid – will soon become a thing of the past according to officials from Metrolink and the City of Glendale, who gathered at Pelanconi Park on Thursday morning, Nov. 15. Safety improvements to the rail line that slices through Glendale’s western districts were announced in a press conference that included Mayor Frank Quintero, Councilmember Ara Najarian, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich among other local dignitaries.
The safety improvements include roadway and curb widening, new automatic vehicle exit gates, new sidewalks, new pedestrian gates and traffic signal advance preemption technology, making use of what officials referred to as “positive train control.” The combination of all these measures would create a “sealed corridor,” effectively eliminating any interaction between trains and cars.
At the forefront of these improvements are the construction of four crossings, including ones at Sonora and Grandview avenues, Brazil Street and Chevy Chase Drive.
The site of the last crossing is near the location of one of the most deadly accidents in Metrolink history. In 2004, a suicidal man parked his Jeep along the tracks south of the Chevy Chase Drive grade crossing, causing a southbound Metrolink train to jack-knife. The train then slammed against an oncoming northbound Metrolink train and a stationary freight train. Eleven people were killed and approximately 200 suffered injuries. The man who triggered the accident, Compton resident Juan Manuel Alvarez, abandoned his suicide attempt moments before the crash. He was later arrested and eventually sentenced to 11 consecutive life-sentences without the possibility of parole.
Train traffic through the area is high with as many as 100 trains on weekdays and 50 on weekends passing through.
“Our priority is safety,” said Antonovich. Citing accidents involving cars on tracks from 2005 as well as 2008, Antonovich reiterated that these improvements would help ensure that such accidents never occur again.
He also added that these improvements were part of a broader plan to update the region’s rail transportation.
“[They] are part of a larger effort to upgrade the Metrolink system throughout Southern California,” he said.
Those improvements will include the opening of a new Metrolink station at Bob Hope Airport that will take passengers to and from Union Station in Los Angeles.
Councilmember Najarian, who sits on the Metropolitan Transit Agency’s (MTA) board of directors, praised the improvements. He noted added benefits to the sealed corridor that go beyond safety concerns.
“One of the great benefits of having a sealed corridor,” explained Najarian, “is that once it is in [place], we can eliminate the blast of the [train] horns that can be heard throughout the night. Some think it is a romantic sound. But, believe me, after hearing these horns several times an hour for 24 hours a day it becomes quite annoying and disturbing to the quality of life in the surrounding area – not only to the residents, but to the creative minds behind us.”
Pointing behind him to where many entertainment businesses are headquartered – most notably Disney Animation Studios and Dreamworks – Najarian said eliminating this distraction for them while they are trying to work is a “great step” to enhance their work environment.
He mentioned the success Orange County has enjoyed by sealing the entirety of the rail corridor that runs through it. Najarian said that the city, as well as the county, must do the same.
“It is going to happen here in Glendale,” he said, “and we’re going to make sure that the entire line that runs by freight, Amtrak, and Metrolink is going to be as safe as possible for riders and for [people] crossing the tracks. There is nothing that cannot be done when intelligent minds gather to resolve this issue.”
“Our first priority is safety,” added Antonovich. “The 2008 Chatsworth tragedy and the 2005 Glendale crash strengthen our resolve to prevent these types of accidents from ever happening again. These improvements are part of a larger effort to upgrade our Metrolink system throughout Southern California – especially on the Antelope Valley line from Lancaster to Los Angeles Union Station.”
The cost of the upgrades, estimated to be $17 million, will be covered by the city, as well as county, state, and federal funds.