By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Court papers also show that the MTA failed to inspect and maintain its traffic crossing gates, which did not operate simultaneously as required by the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s regulatory agency. Last year, a 111-page audit completed by the Public Utilities Commission’s rail-safety division found that the MTA’s railways failed to meet safety standards in 29 categories, and concluded that not enough was being done to protect the public. The same agency delayed the July opening of the 13.7-mile Gold Line connecting Union Station to Pasadena because of safety concerns. (The ads for the Gold Line read, “No Traffic Stress, No Parking Hassles.” We should also hope for “No Deaths!”)
Scannell blames all incidents on the drivers’ and pedestrians’ negligent behavior and on cases of suicide. But Tom Rubin, former controller-treasurer for the RTD/MTA and a transit expert, says it’s a rail-safety joke that “accident inspectors and PR people carry suicide notes with them.” Rubin worked for the RTD from 1989 until the 1993 merger that formed the MTA, but after realizing that safety was not a major concern at the MTA, he quit. “After the Blue Line began operations and the fatalities began mounting up, I tried on several occasions to get changes made for safety reasons,” says Rubin, whose recommendations included installing four quad gates, something that MTA finally got around to doing years later. “I got just about nowhere. People who designed the line were not willing to admit there was a safety problem.
“My point was very simple,” Rubin says. “We’re killing a whole lot of people, and we need to do something about it. Right now.”
The MTA’s official tally of “accidents” (involving automobiles and pedestrians) and fatalities over the six years since White was killed are as follows: 49 accidents and 10 deaths in 1998; 57 accidents and five deaths in 1999. In 2000, 67 accidents and 10 deaths; in 2001, 44 accidents and two deaths; in 2002, 47 accidents and four deaths. As of 2003, 39 accidents and two deaths had occurred on the Blue Line. (It should be noted that accident is not a term that is used by safety professionals. It implies that whatever happened, it was no one’s fault, and could not be prevented. The National Transit Database by the Federal Transit Administration calls such incidents collisions.) On the evening of Saturday, January 17, the Blue Line added another accident to its record when a man made a left turn into the path of a train. As of press time, the driver had not been identified. Scannell reports that he was in critical condition but is expected to survive. Three train passengers were hospitalized with minor injuries.
Rubin describes the Ghetto Blue as an “attractive nuisance” and compares it to an unprotected swimming pool: “If you have a swimming pool on private property but do not take the proper precautions, like putting up a fence or anything to keep people out, and a kid drowns in it,” he says, “then you’re negligent.”
As a 19th-century technology, rail enabled Europe, and Great Britain in particular, to colonize Africa, India and China. Abraham Lincoln continued that tradition in the United States when he hooked up with the railroad lobby and used Chinese and Irish labor to create the transcontinental railway. Locally, Henry Huntington’s Pacific Electric empire, the “Big Red Cars” (part of which ran down the same corridor as the Blue Line), were built by Mexican immigrants for land speculation.
Twenty-first-century rail continues in that tradition, only in reverse: Instead of exploiting the working-class-immigrant communities for their cheap labor, it conquers and imposes on them by reducing their mobility. Many transit-dependent riders were forced onto the Blue Line after their usual bus service, including express lines from downtown Los Angeles to South Bay and to Long Beach, was canceled.
Light rail in Los Angeles was supposed to relieve traffic congestion and transport people faster and more cheaply. But because electric trains lack the allure of SUVs, rail has had little effect on traffic, and it has cost a lot: The MTA has spent $3.2 billion (much of it local taxpayer money) to build and operate the Gold, Green and Blue lines. The trains are so expensive to run that Tom Rubin estimates that the MTA actually saved money on last fall’s 35-day strike — about $4 million to $5 million a week ($25 million to $30 million total) — by not paying for salaries, employee benefits, fuel, electricity and other expenses for rail lines.
At its midpoint, the Ghetto Blue comes to the Imperial/Wilmington/ Rosa Parks Station in Willowbrook, a major transfer point to the Green Line, which gets close to LAX (a shuttle goes to the airport’s doorstep). Cessnas and 747s blast over the loud and windy platform; ghetto birds (LAPD and Sheriff’s helicopters) hover as if in a war zone. The Sheriff’s substation is located here, and authorities routinely check passengers for their $52 monthly passes, $3 day passes or $1.25 tickets. There are no barriers to entry on the MTA train system, no turnstiles to enter the stations. Passengers ride on an honor system, and failure to produce fare on demand carries a $250 fine. The MTA’s Transit Policing Partnership Monthly Activities Report shows that in September 2003, 807 fare-evasion citations were issued on the Blue Line. The Imperial Station ranks second in the system for overall citations; second is the Seventh and Metro Station in downtown Los Angeles. Get caught here, and you’ll end up in the Compton Courthouse, where every day you’ll find a room full of Mexicans and blacks before the judge, trying to straighten out their fare-evasion citations.
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