The Train Always Wins

The development of the Metrolink commuter line, some 400 miles of track stretching from Ventura County to northern San Diego County, has been accompanied by preventable tragedy. Just a week ago today, it struck again. A motorist traveling at high speed crashed through a lowered gate at a railroad crossing during the evening rush hour on the Sierra Highway in Palmdale. He was killed instantly by a Santa Clarita line Metrolink train moving at 60 mph.

The death toll along Metrolink lines is at least 39 since commuter service began four years ago. That total includes some suicides, but most of the deaths have resulted from accidents in which trains collided with vehicles or pedestrians.

Two years ago, we noted that the California office of Operation Lifesaver, a public education group, reported that the state had America’s highest percentage of motorist crashes at railroad crossings equipped with active warning devices--exactly the type of crossing that ought to be accident-free.

The problem seems particularly solvable regarding pedestrians. In the past, state transportation officials rightly were criticized for their cumbersome procurement process, which slows construction of track fencing and warning signs. Now Metrolink officials will be using $756,000 in Proposition C sales tax monies to build fencing at selected points along a 32-mile corridor where nearly half of all the fatalities have occurred. The tracks run between Glendale and Santa Clarita.


The fact remains, however, that public education must continue, for either out of foolhardiness, ignorance or inattention, motorists and pedestrians still try to cross tracks with a train bearing down. Apparently many people don’t understand that the Metrolink trains are quieter and far faster than freight trains.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has conducted an effective safety campaign at crossings. In one case 16 or more law-breaking motorists and pedestrians were stopped over a two-hour period and hit with major fines.

The fencing to be build along the Metrolink line will help, but only information and common sense will bring the carnage to a halt.