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Rail System Ends 1st Year on Upswing : Transit: Growing Metrolink commuter service continues to impress some as a boon, others as a boondoggle.

October 27, 1993|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Downs also noted that as freeway speeds improve, commuters naturally will quit public transit again and return to their own cars, which offers more flexibility and privacy than even the most luxurious trains.

"If you take 16,000 people off the expressway, it's just going to cause 16,000 more people to get on," said Downs, author of "Stuck in Traffic: Coping With Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion."

Indeed, Steve Leung, chief of Caltrans' traffic management branch, said Metrolink has had no noticeable effect on the Southern California freeway system. "Nonetheless, we definitely encourage people to use Metrolink," he said. "We are all for it."

But again, Edelman said, the rail system is a start. "It certainly has provided a way for people in the outlying areas to find another way to get to Union Station" downtown, he said.

Over the last year, nine people--including a teen-age couple--have died in Metrolink-related accidents, prompting some to question the system's safety. Yet all but one of the fatal accidents involved pedestrians illegally walking on or near the rails. Four were apparent suicides.

Only one person has been killed at a private grade crossing, when he drove his truck onto the tracks on Nov. 25, 1992. Another accident at a public crossing caused only minor injuries. No one has been killed since May.

"Ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent of those accidents occurred because of a violation of the law," said Jim McInerney, transportation supervisor for the state Public Utilities Commission, which oversees Metrolink. "You have to violate the law in order to get hit by a train. It's that simple."

McInerney applauded Metrolink officials for making every effort to improve awareness of the danger of walking on or near the rails. He said the system's accident rate is about average.

He suggested that accidents early on may have happened because people were not accustomed to trains using the tracks regularly. Before Metrolink service, the tracks were used by less-frequent and slower-moving freight trains.

In recent months, Metrolink has sponsored education programs to teach schoolchildren--the train's future commuters--about rail safety. In addition, sheriff's deputies and local police are stepping up enforcement of trespassing laws, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Margo Carpini.

Also, fences were built along a particularly deadly stretch of rail in the northeast San Fernando Valley at the request of Edelman, after a series of accidents involving Metrolink trains.

Regardless of the criticisms, most passengers said Tuesday that they never would willingly revert to their auto commuting ways. Bob Becker of Thousand Oaks said he has picked up about two hours a day he used to waste commuting--time he spends catching up on work or reading.

While he admitted that there are problems, he said most are being worked out.

"It's not the Swiss, but it's reasonable," he said.

Metrolink: More Trains, More Riders

This week the train system celebrates its first anniversary. Here's a look at how service and ridership have increased.

Rising Ridership October 1993: 1,366,500

Increasing Service

OCT 92 NOV 93 Number of lines 2.5 4 Route miles 112 195 Stations 11 21 Trains operating 24 61 Daily ridership 2,300 8,100

Changing Habits

MetroLink riders' previous commuting methods. Drove alone: 65% Car/Van pool: 16% Bus: 19%

Local Lines Report

Percentage increase or decrease, from October, 1992, in selected categories

Moorpark-Los Angeles Number of trains per day: +20% Average speed: +24% Ridership per day: +62% Reliability: -6%

Santa Clarita-Los Angeles Number of trains per day: +133% Average speed: +29% Ridership per day: +137% Reliability: +1%

Expanding Lines OCT 92: Metrolink grand opening DEC 92: Claremont Metrolink depot opens FEB 93: Metro Red Line opens Montclair station opens MAR 93: Service from Union Station to Glendale / Burbank starts MAY 93: San Bernardino extension grand opening JUN 93: Riverside Line grand opening AUG 93: Southern California Regional Rail Authority one year old SEP 93: One-millionth Metrolink passenger OCT 93: Metrolink celebrates first birthday

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