The Gold Line Is a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

A truck crashed onto the train tracks (again)

Service on the Gold Line was a complete mess the day before Christmas Eve after a big-rig crashed onto the train tracks in Pasadena on morning of December 22. It was the second time last year that a big-rig jumped the 210 and ended in the path of the Gold Line.

Not only did the truck block both tracks, it damaged the overhead wires that power the light rail line. The accident was eerily similar to a March truck crash that happened less than a day after the Foothill extension opened to Azusa. Crews removed the big-rig and frantically fixed the wires so that the Monday morning commute wasn’t disrupted. Metro was lauded for its quick response, but transit advocates shook their heads at the irony of the timing.

The 31-mile line—traversing East L.A. to Azusa in a giant C shape—runs at street-level, on elevated tracks, with short underground portions, and in the median of the 210 freeway. Many say the freeway portion is the absolute worst, with train commuters subjected to either the ear-splitting noise of whooshing cars or the fumes of idling traffic. Those issues pale in comparison to the danger of a truck crashing onto the tracks while a train is en route. Luckily, train operators were far enough away from the truck accidents to avoid a horrifying incident (trucks have crashed on the tracks six times since the Gold Line’s first phase opened over 13 years ago).

While stronger, taller freeway dividers seem like a smart preventative measure, it’s not even clear they could stop a 30,000-pound truck from reaching the tracks. A better alert system might be a good way to go—of course, if a truck crashes into a train traveling alongside it, a warning won’t do squat. Metro is at least studying both sturdier barriers and a new “intrusion detection system,” but it could be years before a solution is decided on and built.

The problem is, simply, transit along freeways. While many clamored for a train to be built on the 405 when the new carpool lane was added, it now seems like not such a great idea (the future Sepulveda Pass train will likely be underground). Metro is still considering an eastern extension of the Gold Line into El Monte, which would run along the 60—will they now reconsider? While freeway-adjacent train projects are cost-effective, there’s definitely a big price to pay.