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Track Houses : Sacramento System Gives Valley a Look at Light Rail

October 11, 1987|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer and

SACRAMENTO — Light-rail trains are "not much more than an annoyance" to Carolyn Minsch, whose rented Sacramento tract house is 60 feet from the nation's newest trolley line.

But two blocks down the street, Janey Kinder, who also lives 60 feet from the tracks, terms life with Sacramento Regional Transit's light-rail line "awful beyond our worst expectations."

"We would sell but I don't think anyone would be crazy enough to buy our house," Kinder said.

The differing views of Minsch, who said she had expected the noise to be worse, and Kinder, who is among 27 residents who have sued the transit agency for noise damages, would be solace to partisans on opposing sides in the debate over whether--and where--to build a San Fernando Valley light-rail line.

In fact, the Sacramento line, which opened its first leg in March and its final segment Sept. 5, has increasingly figured in the debate that has raged at more than 20 public meetings on light rail in the Valley during the past year.

Cross-Valley Route in '88

On one side, members of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, who are scheduled to pick a cross-Valley route in late 1988, have urged light-rail critics and skeptics to test their fears by touring the state capital's line. Only through first-hand observation of the Sacramento trolley system would a true picture emerge of what light rail would be like in the Valley, commission members say.

Without such personal experience, said commission member Marcia Mednick, a Van Nuys Chamber of Commerce official, many critics will continue to believe that light rail is "a cross between a freight train and the Chicago elevated line."

When the Los Angeles-Long Beach light-rail line is opened in 1990, commission member Jacki Bacharach said, "People here in town can ride on it and stand next to it and see how quiet it is. Until then, I hope as many as possible will visit existing systems."

But several critics of one or more of the five proposed Valley routes say that tours of the state capital's line only confirmed their fears.

They say that the 18.3-mile system proves that ridership projections can't be trusted and that even trains of the latest design cause noise and ground vibrations that can harm residential neighborhoods and damage property values.

Further, critics argue that overhead lines powering light-rail trains in Sacramento and elsewhere would be a blight on neighborhoods.

A recent tour of the state capital's system, along with interviews with Sacramento Regional Transit officials and about 20 residents living varying distances from the tracks, uncovered some evidence to support both sides in the debate.

Overhead Eyesores

The Sacramento system, serving a metropolitan area of 800,000, consists of two legs, each designed to bring state workers and others from suburban homes to workplaces in office buildings surrounding the state Capitol downtown.

Both legs travel largely through commercial and industrial areas.

But there is a part of the recently opened Folsom Boulevard leg that glides past a 10-block stretch of Trujillo Way, traveling alongside the backyards of 61 houses. It is this neighborhood that sets forth examples for Valley observers seeking insight into the drawbacks of living with light rail.

The houses, which form the northern border of a 12-year-old tract, are four- and five-bedroom dwellings similar to those in many areas of the Valley.

And their track-side position is comparable to that of houses along the proposed Victory Boulevard route and another route that follows Victory and Chandler boulevards.

Those two proposed Valley routes, both of which would connect North Hollywood with Warner Center, have generated most of the controversy in the Valley light-rail debate, especially since the commission staff endorsed the Chandler-Victory route a year ago.

A County Transportation Commission report released last week said there are 352 single-family houses within 100 feet of the tracks proposed for the Chandler-Victory route and 294 for the Victory route.

Another proposed Valley route, along the Los Angeles River, would come within 100 feet of 342 houses while 85 houses would be that close to a Ventura Freeway light rail line.

And the proposed Southern Pacific main-line route, which crosses the Valley diagonally from North Hollywood to Chatsworth and has been endorsed by several civic groups and elected officials, would pass within 100 feet of 93 houses.

If the experiences of Sacramento's Trujillo Way residents are an indication, different residents living in identical situations can't be expected to have the same reactions to light-rail noise.

On the other hand, all Trujillo Way residents agreed that the trains were quieter than expected and that the train's warning horn and crossing bell are much louder than expected.

Inside their homes, with windows closed, conversation is not interrupted by the trains, residents said.

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