Eyewitness Vince Pace said he had no doubt what caused the elderly woman to drive her car into the train's path.
Pace, watching from a car nearby, believes she saw no warning of an approaching train. Although the intersection is equipped with a crossing sign and signal lights, they face south on Buena Vista and are not easily seen from San Fernando. Pace said he believes Osborn made what she thought was a legal turn.
"I remember looking at that and saying, 'How odd. The person doesn't have an indicator saying wait a minute, a train is coming.' "
Pace said he could see her confusion, looking up at the descending railroad crossing bar, trying to decide what to do. Then she gunned the car forward. Metrolink officials concluded that Osborn was trying to beat the train.
"It's impossible to tell the speed of an oncoming train," said Denise Tyrrell, former Metrolink spokeswoman. "She may have seen the train and believed she could judge how fast it was moving."
Pace said he was outraged when he heard that assessment. Osborn "was very much aware that something was wrong and that the consequences of that were death," he said. "That's not running. It's really unfortunate they took that stance. But that's the best thing they could say instead of a 70-year-old woman was confused."
Osborn's son, Jim, who now lives in Michigan, has for years lobbied California officials for modifications he believes would have prevented his mother's death. He wants more signs, more flashing lights and a clearer message to warn when a train is coming.
MTA uses more safety measures
Many of the measures Jim Osborn advocates have been put to use by the Metrolink's sister agency, the MTA. It has introduced warning systems, redesigned crossings, ordered that trains slow down at dangerous spots, launched public safety campaigns and recently installed photo enforcement cameras -- all to prevent drivers and pedestrians from making fatal mistakes. Among its innovations is what it calls the "quad" crossing, with guard arms that descend on all lanes leading to and from a track crossing.
The MTA received approval from the PUC to use "quads" across its system. It is now standard on all new routes, including the Gold Line extension, and the agency is adding it to some older track. MTA crossings also incorporate an overhead warning system that lights up a train icon, warning motorists when trains are approaching.
Johnson, Burbank's traffic engineer, said the city did make some changes to the Buena Vista-San Fernando intersection after Wysocki's death. It improved electronic equipment to ensure proper timing of the warning system.
Johnson said the city spent more than a year planning other improvements and had purchased illuminated "No Turn" signs to be placed on San Fernando Boulevard. But it never completed that part of the project, he said.
It took the PUC 18 months to sign off on the plan, he said. But by that time, California Department of Transportation officials announced that Buena Vista would undergo a multimillion-dollar intersection overhaul that would separate vehicle and train traffic as part of a widening of Interstate 5.
"When Caltrans said they were going to widen I-5, we decided it was moot," Johnson said.
Earlier this year, Johnson said he expected the widening to begin in April. It didn't. A spokeswoman for Caltrans said the project is still in design and won't begin at least until the fall of 2010. In the meantime, thousands of drivers use the intersection as nearly 50 Metrolink trains pass through each day.
Times staff writer Nathan Olivares-Giles, researcher Maloy Moore and data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.