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A Shortcut That Leads to Tragedy : Some Blame for Deaths on the Tracks Rests With Our Peculiarly Reckless Public

August 21, 1994

You're an adult pedestrian who had foolishly decided to break trespass laws by crossing that Metrolink commuter train track with an engine hurtling toward you at 60 m.p.h. Perhaps your shoe is untied or your sandal is loose. You decide that it would be quite foolish if you caught a loose lace or strap on the track. You stop to tie it, and then proceed. The train is far down the tracks. You've got time.

Actually, you don't.

In the four seconds or so that it takes, the train has traveled 352 feet--the length of a football field, and nearly another 20 yards more.

Now, you're a school-age child who has watched adults jeopardize their lives in such fashion all summer long. You figure it's OK to do likewise, and you're headed to school with an armload of loose papers. You drop them as you approach the tracks, and papers are scattered everywhere. You scramble to retrieve them.

Let's say you're quick and it takes just 30 seconds to gather your papers. In that span of time, the approaching train has covered half a mile.

If those scenarios seem implausible to you, then consider the remaining members of the Pina family in Glendale. Antonio Juan Pina, 79, his 37-year-old daughter and 7-year-old granddaughter thought they could make it across the tracks in time. All three are dead. They were the 19th, 20th and 21st fatalities to occur along Metrolink tracks since they opened in late 1992. Many of those deaths have occurred in the San Fernando Valley area; fewer than half are considered suicides.

Since the Northridge quake, Metrolink trains cover much more ground. That simply means that Metrolink officials need to redouble their educational efforts and to consider more fencing and warning signals.

But a certain amount of blame rests with California's peculiarly reckless public, which last year recorded more than twice as many fatalities among bicyclists, pedestrians and joggers than any other state.

The phrase "they were taking a shortcut" makes a pretty lousy epitaph and offers small consolation for the loved ones left behind.

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