Repost from the Los Angeles Daily News
Northridge neighbors fight a second railroad trackBy Dana Bartholomew, 11/18/15, 8:12 PM PST
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.”
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.”
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.”