The Sky Is Falling!

(Based on an unpublished letter to the editor rebutting a Daily News op-ed entitled "Expo line approval: A license to kill?" by USC professor Najmedin Meshkati and Robert "BJ" Takushi, a graduate of the program Meshkati teaches within; I have added some quotes from their article, italicized for identification.)

Professor Meshkati and Mr. Takeushi remind me of Chicken Little.

They say that the Expo Line, if not grade separated, pose a risk to life and safety of millions [of] school children in Los Angeles. They base this on the 225-ton train cars [that] will operate at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour ... every 2 to 2.5 minutes, 22 hours a day, in opposite directions on parallel sets of dual tracks that pass adjacent to Dorsey High School and the Foshay Learning Center.

A couple of facts that they overlooked in their state of near hysteria: First, even though it is true that light rail trains can run as fast as 55mph, operating at that speed depends on the conditions under which the train operates. In the case of the Expo Line, it has already been recommended that the line slow to 10mph past Dorsey High on those trips which would operate at the hours when school is beginning or ending. In addition, Metro has already said that they would provide security officers at that location to aid in safe crossing of the tracks.

It should be pointed out that this is hardly without precedent, as the Metro Gold Line slows through the Marmion Way neighborhood to avoid a similar safety problem.

Meshkati and Takeushi then attempt to cite Metro's dismal safety record ... [of] more than 821 recorded incidents since its inception in July 1990 and claim that this is significantly higher than national average rates of accidents and fatalities along [Metro's] rail network.

Ignoring the convoluted language that confuses Metro's record with the national average, there is no true comparison between the Blue Line and the Expo Line. A review of the 800-plus "incidents" they cite shows that the majority were not due to "poor design" but were instead acts of stupidity on the part of drivers (the vast majority, in fact) or pedestrians, and nearly all were at major intersections. Saying that grade separation is necessary at a minor intersection such as Farmdale Ave. is essentially saying that the students at Dorsey High are too stupid to cross a street safely, train or not.

They also put up a straw man argument that "design immunity" has had the result of stifling any motivation and imputes within this agency for any fundamental change and systematic safety improvement, ignoring that the safety technology improvements that will be available on the Expo Line are already in place on the Gold Line, which has had precisely one fatality since it began service in 2003. And that fatality was a suicide.

If the members of the California Public Utilities Commission have the collective intelligence I believe they do, they will reject these hysterical claims of future deaths and allow the Expo Line to open without design modifications.

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