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O.C.'s transit may take a new course

Times Staff Writer

For the last year, Orange County transportation leaders have recited the same mantra: Increase rail service. But with a new chairwoman elected Monday to head the county’s largest transportation agency, that may change.

Orange Mayor Carolyn V. Cavecche, the new Orange County Transportation Authority chairwoman, said she would like to see the agency address the “negative impacts” of adding rail projects.

She also said the county ought to have a larger voice on the levels of international trade coming through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that is carried on local rails and freeways.

“We’re expanding Metrolink, and that’s going to be the backbone for mass transit in the county,” Cavecche said.

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“But when you increase rail service, you’re going to cause impacts, some of them negative, to surrounding communities.”

Cavecche, who has been on the OCTA board of directors for two years, succeeds Buena Park Mayor Art Brown, who served as chairman of the authority and of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, or Metrolink. Brown’s tenure as Metrolink chairman ends this month.

Cavecche will oversee a transitional year for the agency, as it completes transportation projects funded under the old Measure M sales tax approved in 1990.

In November, voters re-approved Measure M, which is a half-cent-on-the-dollar tax expected to raise nearly $12 billion during the next 30 years.

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Under Brown’s tenure, OCTA approved a major expansion of Metrolink service and construction of Metrolink stations in Buena Park and Placentia.

Cavecche voted for the expansion but said transportation planners should mitigate the effects by helping cities deal with noise and inconvenience.

Orange, she said, has 16 railroad crossings and is tied with Anaheim for the most in the county.

Horn blasts from trains at night have jarred homeowners awake in Orange, Placentia, Irvine and other cities, she said.

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“Horns blowing at 10 or 11 in the morning are not a problem,” Cavecche said.

“But now, when you’re blowing those horns at 2 or 3 in the morning, you’ve got a problem.”

Train horns can legally reach 110 decibels, roughly equivalent to standing next to a chain saw. Train engineers are required to sound their horns -- one short blast followed by a long one -- 1,000 feet before reaching a pedestrian or vehicle crossing.

Cities can earn quiet-zone status for train crossings by installing improvements such as enhanced flashing signals, gates that can’t be driven around, and overpasses or underpasses.

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But such steps cost about $1 million and up.

With port traffic expanding and truck traffic increasing, Cavecche noted that Orange County is a pass-through county for freight and passenger trains. By 2009, Metrolink trains will be running every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. until midnight in the county.

“Is there enough capacity on our rail lines?” she said.

“I understand the positive impacts to business and the community, but we need to know some answers, and the people who move the trains have to mitigate these issues.”

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Other goals include relieving congestion on the Riverside Freeway; seeking more federal transportation funds; and creating a relationship with transportation counterparts at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“We don’t have the type of close relationship with board members in Los Angeles as we do with Riverside, so when things come up like the freight corridor issue, we can approach it together,” Cavecche said.

david.reyes@latimes.com


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