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Study: L.A. MTA second-train sign improves crossing safety

Highway-rail grade crossings always can be dangerous. But crossings at double tracks pose an even greater risk — especially to pedestrians near train stations. But Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority might have a solution.

Federal Transit Administration recently issued a final report on MTA’s second-train warning sign demonstration involving MTA’s Blue Line, a 22-mile light-rail system that travels between Los Angeles and Long Beach at up to 55 mph and over 100 grade crossings.

The sidewalk at Vernon Avenue, one of the line’s most hazardous crossings, intersects with two light-rail and two Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Since 1990, when MTA launched its Blue Line service, there have been 17 train/pedestrian collisions at that crossing — five were fatalities, although one was ruled a suicide.

In early 2001, MTA installed the fiber-optic sign, which includes images of a train, pedestrian, a grade crossing and an arrow in the line of sight between the pedestrian and train.

Before and after data was collected using video tapes. Overall, the number of pedestrians crossing tracks less than 15 seconds in front of an oncoming light rail vehicle was reduced by 14 percent after the sign’s installation.

The number of people crossing the tracks six seconds or less before a train entered the crossing dropped from 59 to 40 — a 32 percent reduction. And the number crossing at four seconds or less decreased a significant 73 percent from 15 to four.

Another part of the demonstration project involved interviewing people after they proceeded through the crossing. Of the 556 people interviewed, 77 percent recalled having seen the sign. Only 4 percent of respondents interpreted the sign as meaning there were two trains, but the vast majority understood it indicated danger. A total of 92 percent interpreted the sign in such a way that would increase their safety at the crossing by stopping, looking both ways or taking other precautions.

Ninety-three percent of respondents believe the sign improves safety at least to some extent.

Based on those results, MTA will determine whether to install similar signs at other crossings, as well as evaluate other approaches to increase safety.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/27/2002