PUC reopens Doran rail crossing review

The California Public Utilities Commission has reopened its review of the controversial Doran Street rail crossing in Glendale, and in a letter to stakeholders has suggested that it is leaning toward sealing the roadway off to vehicle traffic.

A final decision on the rail crossing, which is near an industrial propane storage facility on the Los Angeles side of the tracks, isn’t expected until November 2013, a spokesman for the commission said. But the commission said the Doran Street crossing closure “qualifies for the exemption,” meaning an environmental review would be unnecessary, but that more input was being sought.

The finding removes a hurdle for Glendale residents and officials who have pushed to close the Doran Street crossing, arguing that due to its close proximity to the propane facility, a derailment could be catastrophic.

That scenario was potentially avoided on Saturday when a Glendale man who allegedly had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit parked his car on the Doran tracks for no apparent reason.

Glendale officers quickly notified Metrolink, which halted inbound trains while the man’s Chevrolet Camaro was moved off the tracks.

The incident heightened the concerns of some residents in the nearby Pelanconi Estates neighborhood.

“We were really lucky this time,” said John Kociemba, a board member for the Pelanconi Estates Homeowners Assn.

After reviewing the crossing, rail engineers for the California Public Utilities Commission recommended improving the Brazil Street crossing, which is south of Doran, with upgraded warning devices.

The engineers also suggested Los Angeles and Glendale “immediately implement measures to reduce risks,” including restricting long trucks from using Doran or Brazil, since traffic signals could trap them on the tracks. They also proposed a crash wall near the propane facility to protect it from flying debris.

The Doran Street crossing, adjacent to the Ventura (134) Freeway overpass, has the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous in Metrolink’s system.

Los Angeles officials have opposed any effort to close the crossing, calling it a vital access point for emergency first responders into an industrial area hemmed in by the train tracks on one side and the Golden State (5) Freeway on the other.

Calls to Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the Atwater Village area, for comment on the crossing were not returned.

The commission heard testimony earlier this year from community stakeholders on both sides of debate, including from Atwater residents, who said closing Doran would make the area less safe.

“No one wants to see it closed,” said Alex Ventura, a board member for the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council who noted he was speaking on his own behalf. “It’s no more dangerous a crossing than any other crossing.”

Glendale city officials must still review and “discuss internally” the commission’s memo to determine their next move, which would include a public meeting, Public Works Director Steve Zurn said.

If the crossing was closed, residential neighbors would be closer to another goal: a quiet zone.

“Eliminating the train horn noise and having safe at-grade crossings will go a long way toward making this area of town a nice, quiet place to live, as it used to be,” Kociemba said. “Quality of life is very important to us.”

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