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Eyes on the Tracks: Driver Darts in Front of Blue (A) Line Train

10:35 AM PST on March 5, 2020

At around 11 a.m. this past Monday, a driver ignored the flashing lights, bells, lowered barriers, and horns at 55th and Long Beach Ave. and made a left turn in front of an oncoming Blue Line (A) train.

Miraculously, both the driver and the train occupants walked away largely unscathed (though the train operator was likely traumatized).

As seen above, the driver must have had some awareness a train was there, given that they actually had to make a tighter turn than they otherwise would have in order to avoid the lowered gate arm.

That gate arm, incidentally, can be seen resting on the wreckage in the image below.

It's hard to know what to say about this incident. Keeping drivers from darting in front of oncoming trains has been a long-standing issue.

Sometimes the problem has been driver negligence, as in the 2012 case of a USC student who, within minutes of leaving a showroom lot in his $67,000 new car, drove in front of an Expo Line test train while showing off the GPS system to his friends.

Inebriation has been a problem, too, as in the case of a drunk driver who crashed onto the tracks on the Expo Line's first Monday morning commute to Santa Monica back in 2016.

When it is car vs. train, the car will lose every time. The young man in white with the backpack is the driver. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A young man tried to turn in front of the train on Flower at 18th in 2015. Even though it had been moving at a snail's pace, the train was still only able to come to a complete stop 40 or more feet beyond the original collision point. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But crashes were always most prevalent at places like the highway onramp at Flower and 18th Sts. (above), where drivers were regularly willing to risk their own lives and that of transit riders in order to get to that next red light that much faster.

As documented by Joe Linton, Metro finally installed a gate arm there in 2018 to keep impatient drivers at bay.

Metro has installed this new gate to prevent cars from illegally turning left into trains. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
In 2018, Metro installed a turn lane gate to prevent cars from plowing into trains. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

There likely is no room for such a gate along Long Beach Ave.

Just fitting new pedestrian infrastructure there during the most recent round of improvements to the corridor had taken some very creative engineering.

But it's also hard to believe such a gate would be necessary.

Imperfect as conditions are along Long Beach Ave., part of the reason they are not ideal is that four sets of tracks - two for light rail and two for freight - completely dominate the corridor through South L.A. Meaning it's hard for a driver to not be cognizant of the potential presence of trains. And with zero greenery to block one's views, it's not hard to see the train coming.

Although blame for this incident appears to fall wholly on the driver, it is still disheartening to see, given how recently the line reopened after nearly a year's worth of refurbishment and how many mechanical issues and delays it has experienced since then. The incident on Monday impacted service for several hours, with passengers having to board shuttles to move between Vernon and Florence until nearly 3 p.m.

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