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THE METROLINK CRASH

Train Crash Increases Fear of Rail Traffic

Safety: Placentia officials hope to put tracks below street level if they can raise $400 million in state and federal funds.

April 25, 2002|TINA BORGATTA and KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The deadly crash that killed two train commuters in Placentia has amplified residents' concerns over the heavy rail traffic there--a problem the Orange County city hopes to relieve by putting trains into a trench below street level.

A community of about 45,000 that grew up around its rail tracks, Placentia feels the pounding effects of train traffic more than most Southern California suburbs.

Each day, Metrolink sends a dozen passenger trains down the double-tracked rail corridor through the city. Burlington Northern Santa Fe said it sends up to 60 trains a day along the same stretch of track, which the freight line owns. Many residents say that number is low.

Mayor Chris Lowe pointed to the large amount of waterborne freight coming out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that goes through Placentia. "I think the accident yesterday... underscores the importance of finding a solution," Lowe said.

11 Rail Crossings Were the Major Worry

Until now, much of the concern in Placentia has been over the dangers posed by cars and pedestrians mixing with locomotives at the city's 11 rail crossings. The noise caused by the trains' horns also disturbs many residents.

Worried about noise pollution, Placentia officials are pressing for the creation of a so-called quiet zone, meaning the trains would have to lay off their horns when passing through the city except in emergencies.

Both Metrolink and Burlington Northern are involved in informal discussions with the state Public Utilities Commission about the noise issue. Though federal and state regulations require trains to sound their horns at intersections, the two rail lines hope to be allowed to follow the quiet zone proposal, said PUC spokeswoman Terri Prosper.

But Prosper said it is unlikely that the agency will exempt the trains from sounding their horns. "We feel that, for safety, the horns are needed," she said, although she noted that warning horns would not have changed the outcome of Tuesday's deadly accident.

As they wait to hear from the PUC, city officials have agreed to spend about $5 million to install sturdier security gates and widen medians at the crossings.

They also plan to beef up traffic enforcement along the four-mile train route, to discourage drivers from attempting to dodge trains.

However, that would be just a short-term fix, Lowe said.

As a long-range solution, Placentia plans to build a set of tracks 35 feet below street level. The $400-million project would be similar to the recently completed Alameda Corridor, which has trains traveling below ground level through six Los Angeles-area cities. Placentia is seeking state and federal funding for that project.

Two crossings--at Placentia Avenue and Melrose Avenue, in the heart of downtown--would remain at ground level.

But the city also has proposed spending $35 million to build an underpass at each site for street traffic. Funding has already been secured for those projects, and construction will begin in August.

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