Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Orange Line Should Have Been Built With Grade Separation Or Not At All

Police and politicians such as City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel have been blaming errant drivers for the accidents that continue to plague the new Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.

But the fact is that the Orange Line should have been built with grade separation, keeping the buses on different levels from ordinary cars and trucks through bridging or tunneling, or not at all. That's the way most of these special dedicated lines are built in Europe.

There have now been five accidents and about 20 injuries since the Orange Line opened in October. Accidents continue along light rail lines elsewhere in the Los Angeles metropolitan area as well. They too do not have grade separation. There have been scores of deaths in accidents along the Blue Line, the light rail service between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach.

When cars bump into trains, usually those hurt are in the cars, since the trains are so much heavier. But with the Orange Line, the buses being lighter than trains, often the innured are bus passengers.

This creates an intolerable situation. Almost certainly, there's going to be accidents that kill bus passengers on the Orange Line on a fairly regular basis, no matter how often the police ticket careless drivers, whether they change the crossing signs or alter the color of the buses.

Some of the safety measures announced to reduce accidents simply are not working. Soon after the first accident, for instance, it was announced that the buses would slow to 10 mph as they passed through the many intersections along the route from North Hollywood to Woodland Hills.

This would defeat the whole purpose of the line, which was supposed to introduce rapid bus transportation across the Valley. But, in any case, the rule is not being followed.

The other day, when there was an accident along the line in Van Nuys, several residents told Times reporters that they had observed buses going much faster than 10 mph through intersections. One estimated speed was as high as 55 mph.

I could easily believe this, because I saw an Orange Line bus roar through the Hazeltine intersection shortly before the accident occutred going at least 40 mph.

A New York Times series of articles last year on crossing accidents between trains and cars found that it was a misnomer to blame all such accidents on car drivers ignoring the crossing signs. Often, it found, the crossing signs themselves were defective and many of these accidents could be ascribed to the lrains going too fast.

It seems clear in Los Angeles that if the accidents are to be stopped, there's going to have to be grade separation no matter what it costs. And if there isn't, this is going to become an issue in political campaigns.

All too often in our society, we seem to think these systems can be created on the cheap. They can't, at least not without the loss of lives.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Bill Becher said...

When I was an insurance underwriter I studied loss data from short line railroads. The best predictor of the number of accidents was the number of level grade crossings. Building new railroads without grade separation will simply continue the slaughter.

Bill Becher

12/07/2005 11:14 AM  

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