Officials tussle over rail crossing

GLENDALE — Los Angeles County transportation officials may have earmarked $6.6 million for safety upgrades to the Doran Street rail crossing, but state officials say they will continue push to have it closed, citing the danger posed by a nearby propane facility.

The decision will ultimately lie with the California Public Utilities Commission, which would have to approve the upgrades or any closure of the crossing.

Located in Glendale near the Los Angeles border, the Doran Street crossing is considered one of the most dangerous in the Metrolink system because of the constricted intersection, which can leave cars on the tracks, and because of the proximity of an adjacent propane and industrial gas storage facility.

On weekdays, roughly 90 freight and passenger trains travel through the crossing.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted last week to spend $6.6 million in Measure R sales tax funds to implement safety upgrades that would reduce the likelihood of collisions.

The upgrade came about as a compromise between Glendale and Metrolink officials, who had pushed for closing the crossing, and Los Angeles officials, who argued the closure would leave a small area of businesses cut off from emergency response vehicles.

“We put our heads together and devised a way to make the best out of what we have,” said Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian, who sits on the board of directors for MTA and Metrolink.

But on Wednesday, Richard Clark, director of the California Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Protection and Safety Division, said state officials would still press for closing the crossing altogether.

“From a staff perspective, at this point, we continue to advocate closure because of the propane facilities there,” he said. “It just keeps me awake at night.”

State officials have had informal discussions about the proposed safety upgrades, he said, but are not aware of any details.

Metrolink and Glendale officials renewed longstanding calls for closing the crossing near the Los Angeles-Glendale border after an 86-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed by a train in November 2009.

But at state-sponsored public hearings on the proposed closure last year, Los Angeles business owners and public safety officials argued the lack of access would hurt business and cause its own set of safety concerns.

Glendale and Metrolink officials would still like to see the crossing closed, but Najarian said they are concerned a closure could be held up for years by environmental reviews and legal challenges.

“We would still have this substandard crossing throughout that whole period,” Najarian said. “It may be years that this could drag out.”

Residents in the nearby Pelanconi Estates neighborhood have also pushed for the crossing’s closure for safety reasons and to aid in creating a so-called “quiet zone.”

The safety upgrades wouldn’t get in the way of that, Najarian said, since they would allow trains to pass without blasting their horns.

“I don’t care if the crossing is there, as long as it is safe and as long as it qualifies for the quiet zone,” said John Kociemba, a board member of the homeowners association who has long tracked the issue.

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