YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Rail Chokehold : Compton Redevelopment May Be Strangled by Trains

February 05, 1989|MICHELE FUETSCH | Times Staff Writer

The two railroad lines cutting through the heart of Compton are carrying increased train traffic these days, as well as loads of worry for officials struggling to redevelop a community besieged by poverty, drugs and gang violence.

For years the two rail lines, which run north-south along Alameda Street and Willowbrook Avenue, were nearly empty. A recent boom in freight train traffic, however, is causing traffic jams that city officials say will keep shoppers out of their new downtown.

The city redevelopment agency has helped build one new shopping center downtown and has another on the drawing boards. But both centers lie between the rail lines, and traffic on the tracks is projected to become so heavy officials fear it will strangle their revitalization efforts.

"The amount of money we spent to clear that land is down the drain if we can't get people down there to shop," Mayor Walter R. Tucker said.

Plans are being made to divert all freight traffic from the prospering ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach onto one line in Los Angeles County--the one that runs along Compton's Alameda Street. If that happens, the freight track is expected to carry 106 trains a day by the year 2020, according to studies by the port, the railroads and county transportation agencies.

Two blocks to the west, along Willowbrook Avenue in front of City Hall, the second track will next year begin carrying commuters from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. By the Year 2000, the light rail passenger line operating on the Willowbrook track will bring a train through Compton every three minutes.

"They are going to destroy our city," Councilman Maxcy Filer said.

Both the light rail and freight lines will pass through parts of other cities but no community, Compton officials insist, will suffer the impact theirs will suffer.

Along with other corridor cities along both lines, Compton has been fighting for bridges, underpasses and overpasses that will route trains over or under major automobile arteries.

But just one grade separation, as the bridges and overpasses are called, can cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million, which is why railroads and state and county transportation authorities do not build many.

Already Compton is feeling the effects of increased freight traffic. Trains tie up rail crossings, emergency vehicles find it increasingly difficult to cross from one side of the city to the other, and noise permeates residential neighborhoods and parents and teachers worry about the safety of schoolchildren who must cross the tracks each day.

There have not been any deaths, said school board Trustee Kelvin Filer, the councilman's son. But he says he knows of many injuries that have occurred because older boys tried to jump aboard slow-moving trains.

The school board, he said, has written several letters to the railroads pleading for safety measures. The railroad is promising to fence the line that runs along Alameda Street, a solution that the elder Filer finds abhorrent.

"It will be the Berlin wall as far as I'm concerned . . . It will just divide the whole city," he said.

There is only one fire station on Compton's east side and it takes only one freight train to block all the downtown crossings. When additional fire trucks or paramedics are needed on the east side and a train is blocking the crossings, they must race almost three miles north to a service road along the Artesia Freeway before they can cross.

"There have been numerous occasions where police and fire units have been delayed five to seven minutes, depending on the length of the train," said Battalion Fire Chief James Murphy.

Until recently, traffic was nonexistent to light on the two Southern Pacific Railroad tracks running through Compton.

That changed, however, with the christening two years ago of the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) in Wilmington, where cargo containers are moved onto rail cars by the thousands. Today, about 31 trains go in and out of the ICTF.

Los Angeles Times Articles