Tag Archives: Chatsworth CA

Northridge neighbors fight a second railroad track

Repost from the Los Angeles Daily News

Northridge neighbors fight a second railroad track

By Dana Bartholomew, 11/18/15, 8:12 PM PST
Residents against a proposed changing of a single railroad track in to a double that runs through their Northridge neighborhood, Wednesday, November 11, 2015. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

NORTHRIDGE >> When dozens of freight and passenger trains whoosh each day past homes in Northridge, curtains are sucked through open windows and nail heads sometimes lifted from floors, residents say.

And that happens from just one railroad track.

Now residents along the San Fernando Valley railroad are rattled by plans for a second track running from Van Nuys to Chatsworth. They say the double track would move the trains much closer to their backyards, diminishing property values while increasing noise, vibration and the chance of a dangerous derailment or toxic spill.

“There’s already a good chance of derailment, because of cars running through our cul de sac,” Briana Guardino, 47, of Northridge, whose home on White Oak Avenue abuts the railroad right of way and lies 60 feet from the track, said during a recent streetside protest. “If they put a new track in here, my family’s dead. If a train tips over, it’s coming straight into our bedroom.”

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has long planned to lay a second track across the northwest San Fernando Valley rail corridor. But momentum on the project, which had been scheduled to break ground next year, was slowed when newly appointed Metro CEO Phillip Washington said he would seek more community input and the results of a noise and vibration study requested by residents.

The Raymer to Bernson Double Track Project, formally proposed in 2011, would add 6.4 miles of new rails between Woodley and De Soto avenues, allowing Metrolink, Amtrak and Union Pacific trains to share a continuous rail corridor across Los Angeles County and beyond.

The $104 million project, to be paid for by voter-approved Measure R and Proposition 1B transit funds, would include upgrades to traffic controls, grade crossings and roads and bridges along the rail route, while rebuilding the Northridge Metrolink Station to serve an expected boost in passengers.

By adding a second track, Metro officials say, freight and passenger trains that now sit with their engines idling waiting for trains to pass would operate more efficiently, creating less smog. They say a double track would also promote rail safety, reliability and on-time performance.

“We would never do anything that was not safe, that we know to be unsafe,” said Paul Gonzales, a spokesman for Metro. “Nothing will be approved, built or operated unless we’re satisfied that it’s safe.”

Residents’ concerns

This summer, however, residents of Sherwood Forest caught wind of the double-track plan they say double-crossed the thousands who live along the route by speeding ahead without community input or any state or federal environmental impact reviews.

Instead, transit officials had won a federal “categorical exclusion,” or environmental study workaround, by claiming “the public has been informed of the project and is in complete support.”

It wasn’t.

While public officials and some neighborhood councils were brought up to date, residents living by the railroad tracks were not, they say. So meetings with Metro were called over the summer, with hundreds turning out in opposition. A Citizens Against Double Track Steering Committee coalition was formed.

More than 1,000 residents have signed a petition to spike the project.

A protest by the Northridge track last week drew nearly 20 red-clad residents who brandished signs from “Too close to homes = unsafe” to “Destroy property values.” They said the number of trains has grown from up to eight each day 30 years ago to up to three dozen, with more capacity expected with a double track. Three trains, including a 95-car freight, passed within an hour during the protest.

“Very simply: We all moved in knowing there was a train behind us,” said Stefan Mayer, 59, of Northridge, a contractor who now regularly checks his wood floor for raised nail heads. “What I do have a problem with is the possibility of more trains, more noise, more (danger) and the destruction of our property.”

Support for residents

Meanwhile, elected officials from Los Angeles to Washington have voiced support for residents’ opposition. In August, Councilman Mitch Englander called on Metro to explain its reasons for a new track, urging the agency to address local concerns about the environmental review process.

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a Metro board member whose district includes the proposed double track, has joined residents with questions about public safety.

“I have some concerns regarding double tracking in residential areas,” she said last week in a statement. “If Metro decides to move forward with (a) second phase, I will request a full environmental review.

“I am concerned that the issues the community has raised be addressed and that there be adequate mitigation.”

Congressman Brad Sherman has also weighed in, saying he shares the concerns of Kuehl and residents affected by trains passing more closely to their homes.

He said the federal National Environmental Policy Act requires a formal environmental review if the proposed rail project could result in a change in “noise sources” within homes, schools and parks. Metro is now conducting a preliminary noise study.

“Furthermore, I understand that Metro and Metrolink are considering a proposal which accomplishes the project goals of operational reliability and safety without double-tracking the one-mile stretch of the project which lies adjacent to homes,” Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, said in a statement. “I am hopeful that their efforts to find a solution to the concerns of the affected community prove successful.”

A Metro town hall meeting that was scheduled to take place today to answer more than a hundred questions from residents was pushed back to mid-December, a Metro spokesman said, or early January to accommodate for the holidays.

Gonzales, the Metro spokesman, admitted the agency had “fallen down on the job” on community outreach but would make it right.

“The decision will be made according to what’s right, for not only the local community, but the transportation system as a whole,” he said. “Their needs, desires will be taken into account.

“We have listened — and continue to listen — to people in that neighborhood, and are taking their issues into account.”

One known incident

Residents said the only known incident along the line was a derailment during the 1994 Northridge earthquake and that seismic safety precludes a second track.

They questioned the need for a second track when Metrolink ridership has dropped more than 9 percent since 2008 — from 45,443 daily boardings to 41,248, according to a recent study — with some passenger cars nearly empty.

They questioned a “track shift” they said would force trains to cross over from a new double track north of the current rails to new rails laid to the south, creating another hazard. But there will be no track switch, Metro officials say.

They also questioned the safety of moving rails closer to their homes that carry explosive crude oil trains. Two years ago, an oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, with a resulting explosion that killed 47 and burned 30 buildings. Last summer, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion urging a San Luis Obispo Planning Commission to block a proposed Phillips 66 refinery expansion that could send five 1.4-mile-long oil trains a week into Los Angeles through the San Fernando Valley.

If a crude-bearing train were to derail in the highly populated Valley, a blast ratio of 1,000 feet could kill 3,000 people, residents say.

“When they started this (double track), they essentially cheated our neighborhood out of an environmental impact report,” said Michael Rissi, co-chairman of the steering committee to fight a second track. “We want an EIR.

“But we really don’t want a double track. The single track has been here for 102 years without an accident, and we want it to stay that way.”

    Railroads face big fines for failure to meet federal safety deadline

    Repost from McClatchyDC

    Railroads face big fines for failure to meet federal safety deadline

    HIGHLIGHTS

    • Feds plan to enforce Dec. 31 deadline
    • Penalties could add up for railroads
    • Congress hasn’t provided much funding
    By Curtis Tate, August 7, 2015

    An Amtrak Capitol Corridor train from Sacramento, Calif., arrives at Diridon Station in San Jose on Aug. 10, 2012, alongside trains of Altamont Commuter Express. Amtrak and commuter railroads must install Positive Train Control this year under a 2008 mandate from Congress, but most will miss the deadline.

    The Federal Railroad Administration plans to impose big penalties on railroads that fail to meet a year-end deadline to install a new collision avoidance system, including more than 70 percent of the nation’s commuter railroads.

    Congress mandated Positive Train Control in 2008, but most of the nation’s commuter and freight railroads won’t have the system ready by Dec. 31. The technology is required for about 60,000 miles of track, including those that carry passengers or chemicals that are poisonous or toxic by inhalation.

    A push in Congress to extend the deadline by three to five years has stalled, and lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to the Capitol until next month.

    Despite the commuter rail industry’s best efforts, implementing PTC nationwide by the end of this year is not possible. Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO, American Public Transportation Association

    In a Friday report to lawmakers, the FRA said it planned to enforce the mandate they set in 2008. As of Jan. 1, 2016, railroads that have failed to install Positive Train Control on the required track segments face fines up to $25,000 a day for each violation.

    “The potential civil penalties that FRA could assess are substantial,” the agency wrote.

    Only 29 percent of the nation’s commuter railroads will meet the Dec. 31 deadline, according to the American Public Transportation Association, and the rest may need one to five more years.

    “Despite the commuter rail industry’s best efforts,” said Michael Melaniphy, the association’s president and CEO, “implementing PTC nationwide by the end of this year is not possible.”

    FRA has requested funding from Congress every year since 2011 to help commuter railroads install Positive Train Control, including $825 million in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget. Lawmakers have only provided $42 million to date.

    “Congress has not provided a guaranteed, reliable revenue stream for implementation on commuter railroads,” the agency wrote.

    The agency has used other tools to help commuter railroads, including $650 million in grant funds, $400 million of which came from the 2009 economic stimulus.

    In May, FRA issued a $967 million loan to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter rail agency, to install Positive Train Control on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road.

    Melaniphy said that commuter railroads have spent $950 million to date on the system, but need nearly $3.5 billion to get the job done.

    The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended the system since 1969, but Congress didn’t require it until the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

    Twenty-five people were killed in August of that year when a Metrolink commuter train smashed head-on into a freight train near Chatsworth, Calif.

    Positive Train Control could have automatically stopped the train before it ran past a red signal. Metrolink is one of the few commuter railroads that will meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

    $25,000 Maximum fine, per incident per day, for missing Dec. 31 deadline

    In other more recent fatal crashes, trains approached curves at two or three times the appropriate speed, and the system could automatically have slowed them down.

    Four people died in December 2013 when a Metro-North commuter train jumped the tracks north of New York City. The train was traveling 82 mph at a curve restricted to 30 mph.

    In May, an Amtrak Northeast Corridor train barreled into a 50 mph curve north of Philadelphia at 106 mph and derailed. Eight people were killed.

    Amtrak will meet the Dec. 31 deadline for installing Positive Train Control along the Northeast Corridor, which it owns. On other routes, it will depend on freight railroads, some of which will be ready, while some won’t.

    According to FRA, only freight hauler BNSF and two commuter railroads, Metrolink and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, have submitted safety plans required under the 2008 federal law.

      Positive Train Control – background, progress, funding

      Repost from the Miami Herald

      Rail safety technology improvements delayed by cost, complexity

      Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 14, 2015
      Emergency personnel work at the scene of the deadly Amtrak train wreck Wednesday in Philadelphia. Federal investigators are trying to determine why the Amtrak train jumped the tracks in a wreck that killed eight people and injured dozens. Patrick Semansky – AP

      Most of the nation’s railroads will not meet a Dec. 31 deadline for installing collision-avoidance technology that could have prevented Tuesday’s deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia.

      Congress in 2008 required that railroads install positive train control by the end of this year, and although the rail industry has made progress on the $9 billion system, equipping 60,000 miles of track and 22,500 locomotives with the technology has proved to be complicated.

      The technology has to work across not only the seven largest freight railroads but also 20 commuter railroads, Amtrak and dozens of smaller carriers. It requires 36,000 wireless devices that relay information to train crews and dispatchers from signals and track switches.

      It also must work in densely populated regions where multiple rail lines intersect and are heavy with passenger and freight traffic, such as Chicago, Southern California, New York and New Jersey.

      “Each of these systems has to be able to talk to each other,” said Ed Hamberger, the president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.

      Even lawmakers who months ago wanted to hold the industry to the 2015 deadline have softened their position in recognition that the system simply won’t be ready.

      Hamberger told reporters Thursday that the industry needs another three years just to get the equipment installed, and two more to make sure it works. Of the 60,000 miles of track where the system is required, he said only 8,200 miles would be ready by year’s end.

      A bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in March would give railroads until 2020 to complete the task. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wrote the legislation that contained the 2015 deadline, said a five-year blanket extension was not the answer.

      “In my view, that is an extremely reckless policy,” she said in a statement Thursday. Feinstein has introduced a bill that would extend the deadline on a case-by-case basis.

      The technology was not in place at the site of Tuesday’s derailment, on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger railroad in the country. The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that positive train control would have prevented Train 188 from approaching a 50 mph curve at more than 106 mph.

      Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured. It was Amtrak’s first fatal accident on the Northeast Corridor since a January 1987 crash that killed 16 people. In that instance, positive train control could have stopped a freight locomotive from running past a stop signal into the path of the Amtrak train.

      The NTSB has recommended positive train control for decades. In January, the board included the technology on its “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements. It did not endorse giving railroads an extension beyond December.

      Amtrak actually may finish its installation of the system on the entire 457-mile passenger rail corridor between Washington and Boston ahead of most railroads.

      “We will complete this by the end of the year,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said Thursday at a news conference in Philadelphia.

      The rail industry supports the Senate bill that would give the companies a five-year deadline extension, and even some of the industry’s toughest critics in Congress are prepared to give it more time.

      According to the Federal Railroad Administration, freight hauler BNSF and Metrolink, a commuter railroad in Southern California, are positioned to meet the original deadline.

      An August 2008 collision near Chatsworth, Calif., prompted Congress to pass the Rail Safety Improvement Act requiring positive train control. Twenty-five people were killed when a Metrolink commuter train ran past a stop signal and into the path of a Union Pacific freight. According to the NTSB accident report, the Metrolink engineer, who was among those killed, was texting just before the crash.

      Another fatal crash, on New York’s Metro North commuter railroad in December 2013, renewed calls for positive train control. Four people were killed when a New York-bound train jumped the tracks in the Bronx. The train was traveling 80 mph when it hit a 30 mph curve.

      Positive train control is designed to prevent a train from running a red signal or approaching a slow curve too fast. Accident investigators don’t yet know why Train 188 was going more than twice the appropriate speed when it derailed in Northeast Philadelphia, but they do know the accident was preventable.

      “The Amtrak disaster shows why we must install positive train control technology as soon as possible,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement Thursday.

      One thing Congress did not do when it required railroads to install the system was give them any money to do it. When asked Thursday how much the government had contributed to the freight railroads to assist with positive train control, Hamberger, of the Association of American Railroads, replied, “Zero.”

      President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget includes $825 million to help commuter railroads install the technology. The president’s 2009 economic stimulus provided $64 million to Amtrak for its installation. But that wasn’t enough, the railroad said in a report justifying its 2014 budget request.

      Overall, Amtrak has spent $110.7 million since 2008 to install positive train control.

      “Additional funding to fully comply with PTC requirements is necessary,” Amtrak said.

      Richard Harnish, the president of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a group that advocates for passenger rail improvements, said in a statement Thursday that positive train control was delayed because Congress gave railroads an unfunded mandate.

      “Congress needs to invest in the safety of our transportation system,” he said.