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Framing Scofflaws : MTA to Install Cameras at 17 Blue Line Crossings

March 10, 1994|PSYCHE PASCUAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The pickup truck lingered at the rail lines at a Compton intersection, then slipped across the tracks as the barriers slowly descended. A Blue Line train sounded its bullhorn about half a mile away.

Police weren't around to catch the driver, but a camera system installed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was. Several weeks later, MTA authorities mailed a $104 citation to the driver.

The camera was part of a test that worked so well to deter other drivers from illegally slipping across the commuter rail line in Compton that the MTA has decided to spend $2.5 million to install cameras permanently at 17 problem crossings along the Long Beach-Los Angeles line by the fall.

MTA officials are counting on the cameras to achieve what common sense apparently didn't. They discourage drivers from slipping around lowered barriers and cut down on collisions between cars and the trains, which travel at speeds of up to 55 m.p.h.

The high-resolution cameras were tested last year at two crossings in Compton: Alondra and Compton boulevards.

The cameras took photographs over a four-month period at Compton Boulevard, and operated for three months at the Alondra Boulevard crossing. Signs posted near the cameras warned drivers they were being photographed.

Before the camera was installed at the Compton Boulevard crossing, at least one car would race across the tracks every hour while the warning lights were flashing or after the barriers had descended. After the installation, the number of violations fell to one every 12 hours, MTA officials said. The results were similar at Alondra Boulevard crossing.

"What is causing accidents is people driving around crossing gates," said Jim Curry, a consultant who manages the MTA's Blue Line safety program. "If we can cut down the number of people driving around the gates, intuitively we have to be cutting down the number of accidents."

Some of the worst accidents have occurred in Compton and Willowbrook, where slow-moving freight trains have run on tracks parallel to the Blue Line.

From the rail line's start-up in July, 1990, to last month, there have been 191 accidents at rail crossings. Fourteen people died in nine of those accidents.

"It's a matter of people being in a hurry," said Capt. Frank Vadurro of the Sheriff's Transit Services Bureau, which patrols the Blue Line. "We've heard them all. 'I was in a hurry. The gates weren't down.' In this instance, if you have a 90,000-pound train coming at you, you're going to lose," he said.

The last fatal accident occurred Nov. 16 in Willowbrook. Two people died and seven were injured when an 18-year-old woman drove into the path of an oncoming train.

Deputies handed out 9,300 tickets last year to motorists trying to cross the tracks.

MTA officials say they also are examining other safety measures, including traffic barriers that stretch across all traffic lanes.

Last week, deputies also began patrolling on motorcycles in an effort to catch violators more easily, said sheriff's Lt. Al Frisch, who is in charge of security for the Blue Line.

A law that went into effect Jan. 1 carries a stiffer penalty for motorists who cross the tracks when the barriers are down.

The fine is now $204 for the first violation, and $304 for a second offense.

Violators also may be required to attend traffic school.

"Training is better than someone paying a fine," Frisch said. "It's a matter of training and educating people."

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