After deaths at Burbank railroad crossing, upgrade puts safer future on track

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BURBANK >> Fourteen years ago, a Metrolink commuter train barreling through Burbank ploughed into a truck driven by 63-year-old Jack Wysocki, killing him before it derailed and flipped, fatally wounding an elderly passenger and injuring 32 more.

After two more train-related deaths at the Buena Vista Street crossing, transit officials on Tuesday announced the completion of a new elevated rail line that prevents further collisions between trains and cars.

“The elevated railroad tracks allow us to say goodbye — permanently — to the at-grade crossing on Buena Vista Street at San Fernando Boulevard, where people tragically lost their lives and too many families suffered unbearable pain,” said Carrie Bowen, District 7 director for the California Department of Transportation.

She was among dozens of local, state and federal officials to gather during a cold morning drizzle to officially cut the ribbon on the $40-million el tracks, which opened Monday to Metrolink and Union Pacific trains.

Five years in the making, the 2.2-mile stretch of elevated railway along Interstate 5 from Buena Vista to Empire streets is part of a $350-million I-5/Empire Project.

The Caltrans project, slated to finish in 2019, aims to increase rail safety while boosting traffic flow and relieving congestion near Hollywood Burbank Airport.

RELATED STORY: Burbank driver, 79, dies in Metrolink train crash

Carpool lanes are now being added between Magnolia Boulevard and Buena Vista Street, with a new overcrossing at Burbank Boulevard, with realigned on- and off-ramps, in addition to an auxiliary lane.

But it’s the new railroad crossing grade separations that are designed to separate trains, pedestrians and cars.

In addition to the elevated rail crossing at Buena Vista, Caltrans is now building a new I-5 interchange with a railroad grade separation at Empire Avenue, to be completed next year.

The I-5/Empire Project is funded by Caltrans, with support from the city of Burbank, Federal Highway Administration, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority that runs Metrolink.

“This project was not built in the boardroom,” said Brian Humphrey, vice chair for the rail authority and longtime spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, just before a Metrolink commuter rumbled atop the new elevated line up to 30 feet above the old one. “It was built on the dusty hood of a Chevrolet pickup, by men and women drinking half-cold cups of coffee and eating breakfast sandwiches well before dawn.”


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The former at-grade crossing at Buena Vista Street had a long history of train-vehicle crashes, including seven in the past 35 years, killing four.

On Sept. 2, 2014, a car driven by 79-year-old Fawaz Khalil was struck by a Metrolink train, killing him.

On Jan. 6, 2003, Metro commuter train No. 210 struck the Universal Studios truck driven by Wysocki, killing him. The train derailed, then toppled over. Two weeks later, 76-year-old passenger Grace Midgley Kirkness, died from her injuries.

Three years to the day after that fateful crash, another Metrolink commuter struck a car driven by 76-year-old Maureen Osborn, who became confused at the crossing and was also killed by an oncoming train.

All the safety signals had been working properly, Metrolink officials said.

She was the mother of a neighbor of Ara Najarian, a councilman for Glendale who serves on both the Metrolink and Metro boards.

“I’m very happy that one of the most dangerous intersections (is) finally being resolved,” Najarian told a crowd of an estimated 50 transit and California Highway Patrol officials. “This completes a promise that I made to my neighbor … to make it safe.

“So we would lose no other lives — of seniors, or adults, or children — be they in cars, bikes or pedestrians,” he said. “And I think this highlights the commitment that all of our agencies have, to safety.”


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