Officials worried about rail safety

BURBANK — With the introduction of the new Metrolink express train service to Union Station in Los Angeles, officials in Burbank are concerned that the varied schedules could spell trouble for commuters who have a dangerous habit — crossing the station tracks against warning lights.

At the downtown Burbank Metrolink station, already one of the busiest stations in the system, commuters rush across the two tracks when a train is idle, mostly behind a northbound train. The assumption is that the train will not suddenly or accidentally reverse.

Burbank Transportation Commission Chairman Paul Dyson acknowledged that the practice isn’t new, but said that with the introduction of the express service and the accompanying schedule changes, safety was a serious concern.

Buses serve both sides of the station, which serves as a major junction for Antelope Valley and Ventura County lines, he said, adding to the busy mix. The station is also served by buses to the Media District and Glendale's Walt Disney Co. Creative Campus.

In the days leading up to the launch of the express Metrolink train service — which eliminates some stops to quicken the commute time to downtown Los Angeles — officials combed the stations to warn passengers to be beware of new stop schedules, which could take some off guard.

For the uninitiated, the downtown Burbank station is the second-largest “destination station” — where people arrive in the morning and depart in the evening — behind downtown Los Angeles' Union Station, said David Kriske, a Burbank city planner.

Downtown Burbank is the sixth-busiest Metrolink station overall, with about 1,100 boardings, said Sherita Coffelt, a spokeswoman for the agency.

On a recent weekday afternoon, a security guard at the pedestrian crossing was warning riders that they should not cross the tracks — a practice that’s discouraged with lights and a loud bell. Large signs inform riders that they should not cross when the bell and lights are on.

Tracy Childress, a security guard who has worked in the industry 14 years, said she often observes commuters crossing the tracks when they shouldn’t.

“Some people will listen and some won't,” she said.

Officials note that there has yet to be a fatality at the station, although a 57-year-old Arcadia man sustained serious injuries in 2009 after he was struck by a slowing Metrolink train at the Downtown Burbank station platform, police said.

Witnesses told Burbank police that the man appeared to step in front of Metrolink 110 as it prepared to stop.

Ismael Rodriguez of Santa Ana said he has been riding the train to downtown Burbank for more than a year from his job near Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue in L.A.

“It happens all the time,” Rodriguez, 28, said of the risky crossings. “It's not anything I do, but it happens.”

One of his suggestions to Metrolink and Burbank officials, Dyson said, was about rewiring the bell and light system so it doesn't turn off when the train has stopped. There are also no arms at the platform crossing.

“Nobody's been killed,” he said, “so nothing's been done.”

Metrolink and city officials said they would continue to monitor the platforms for safety enhancements and were open to suggestions.

“It will be important to talk to Metrolink partners, especially the sheriffs ... in an effort to enforce [safe crossing],” Burbank City Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy said.


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