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Metrolink crossing to get $6-million upgrade

The Doran Street crossing in Glendale has been identified as the riskiest intersection in the commuter line system.

May 31, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • Rail officials said the Doran Street crossing has the highest potential for disaster out of 312 crossings because of an adjacent propane company, a heavy flow of tanker trucks and motor vehicles that regularly stop on the tracks.
Rail officials said the Doran Street crossing has the highest potential… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

Metrolink is preparing to make $6 million in safety improvements to a Glendale railroad crossing that has been identified as the riskiest intersection in the commuter line's system.

Rail officials said Doran Street has the highest potential for disaster out of 312 crossings because of an adjacent propane company, a heavy flow of tanker trucks and motor vehicles that regularly stop on the tracks.

About 90 freight and passenger trains travel through the crossing at high speed each workday, including 65 that operate on Metrolink's Antelope Valley line.

"If one of those propane trucks gets stuck," said Sherita Coffelt, a Metrolink spokeswoman, "you'll have a bomb sitting there."

The commuter railroad, which has more than 500 miles of track and serves six Southern California counties, will pay for the improvements with money earmarked last week by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

The MTA approved a comprehensive safety program proposed by Michael D. Antonovich, a board member and county supervisor whose district is served by the Antelope Valley line. Included in the program is a contingency fund of $600,000 in case of cost increases.

"This will have a dramatic impact on reducing the potential for collisions between trains and motor vehicles, especially propane trucks," Antonovich said.

Doran Street also is the first project in a broader plan initiated by Antonovich in April to straighten the alignment, reduce travel times and upgrade safety along the entire Antelope Valley line, which runs between Lancaster and Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

Metrolink officials said the Doran improvements include better signals, new crossing gates, enlarging the intersection so vehicles don't line up on the tracks, a wider turning radius for trucks and safety enhancements related to the nearby propane company.

Doran Street intersects an 18-mile rail corridor that has the highest rate of all types of collisions involving trains, records show. The Sunland Boulevard and Buena Vista Street crossings have the most crashes involving automobiles and trains, and Doran ranks among the top eight Metrolink crossings for accidents.

A 2009 Times database of rail accidents shows that since 1995, at least six crashes have occurred at the Doran crossing, resulting in one death and one injury.

It was scheduled to be closed in 2001 for safety reasons but was kept open to preserve access to the area for emergency vehicles.

Though some intersections have had more collisions, Metrolink officials consider Doran the riskiest because of careless motorists, outdated safeguards and the potential for a propane tanker to explode if hit by a train.

In January alone, Glendale police and railroad authorities cited 28 motorists for stopping in the Doran crossing and two pedestrians who were walking in the railroad right-of-way. Metrolink officials also said there have been close calls involving engineers who have made emergency stops to avoid motor vehicles.

"Doran has been an issue for a decade," said Richard Katz, who sits on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink boards. "We are now moving very quickly to make improvements."

Katz said Metrolink has a new emphasis on safety and is working to overcome earlier criticism that the railroad did little in the past to address dangerous crossings. He added that Metrolink is studying the safety of its crossings and searching for funds to pay for upgrades.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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