Residents of a Canyon Country housing tract, whose only exit from their neighborhood recently was blocked for almost an hour by a 7,000-foot-long disabled train, fear they may be trapped inside the tract even longer if a second access road is not built soon.
"There could be a derailment or a toxic spill, and emergency vehicles couldn't get in to us and we couldn't get out," said Richard Aldrich, a board member of the American Beauty Classics Homeowners Assn.
Aldrich said a derailment is possible because heavily laden tanker cars have loosened several railroad ties on a sharp curve just east of Rainbow Glen Drive, the housing development's only paved access road.
'Could Be Disastrous'
"It could be disastrous," Aldrich said. "The problem I have is that I'm at the turn and I know they have trouble making that turn. The other night they had to walk the train through the turn with some flashlights. We definitely need another way out of here."
County officials said they agree and Aldrich, and his neighbors may soon get an emergency access road that does not cross the railroad tracks.
"It's a heavily considered safety hazard," said JoAnne Darcy, Santa Clarita Valley area field deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
A deluge of calls from homeowners in the American Beauty Classics tract after the Sept. 26 train breakdown prompted county officials to meet with representatives of the developer, Jack Shine, to discuss the situation, Darcy said Monday. Agreement was reached on a route for the new access road, and Shine has offered to do the grading for it, she said.
But the new route requires cooperation from Southern Pacific. The temporary unpaved exit would follow the railroad right-of-way south of the tracks, extending east from Rainbow Glen Drive to Sierra Highway at Via Princessa.
Shine representatives and railroad officials will meet Wednesday in Bakersfield to discuss use of the right-of-way, Darcy said. If they do not agree to its use, county officials could force a public hearing on the issue before the state Public Utilities Commission, Darcy said.
Southern Pacific spokesman John Tierney said that he was unaware that there is a problem at that railroad crossing and that he knows nothing of a scheduled meeting on the issue.
Aldrich said that about 1,000 families live in the American Beauty tract. For several months, he said, the homeowners have been pleading with the builder to provide them with a second access road.
Concern About Property Values
"Many have been afraid their property values are going to go down," Aldrich said.
There is one existing emergency access route from the tract--a dirt road along the tracks from Rainbow Glen Drive to Hope Way. But that exit, as well as Rainbow Glen Drive, has been blocked by the longer trains now being used by the railroad, county officials said. Residents say the road is all but impassable.
Plans call for the tract to be connected to an extension of Whites Canyon Road and Via Princessa, which includes a railroad overpass. That $18-million project was to have been completed next summer. But it has been put off indefinitely because of a dispute between the county and railroad officials over who is going to pay for a required realignment of the railroad tracks.
Darcy said Southern Pacific wants the county to pay $1.8 million of the $2.2 million realignment cost.
"The county just can't afford that," Darcy said. A meeting between county and Southern Pacific officials is scheduled later this week in San Francisco, she said.