Blue Line safety upgrades underway for Metro's most dangerous line

The Blue Line, the oldest and deadliest of Metro's rail lines, is undergoing safety upgrades.
The Blue Line, the oldest and deadliest of Metro's rail lines, is undergoing safety upgrades.
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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s deadliest rail line, the Blue Line, is getting some safety upgrades.

The Blue Line connects downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach and is Metro’s oldest line – it turned 26 this year. It’s also the busiest light rail line with more than 80,000 rides a day.

But there’s one superlative no one’s proud of — it’s the deadliest Metro line, with more than 120 fatalities since it opened in 1990 and one of the worst crash records in the country.

This week, Metro unveiled new safety upgrades at 27 intersections along the 22-mile line, most of which are already in place on Metro’s newer lines.

The agency spent $30 million to add pedestrian and swing gates at intersections in L.A., Compton and Long Beach. It also expanded and repaved walkways, added signs and improved platform access for people with disabilities.

Metro officials said the additions to L.A.’s most-used light rail are a necessary move for Metro keep up with evolving federal and state safety regulations.

“It will slow people down,” said Paul Gonzalez, Metro spokesman, “And we want you to look both ways to see if there’s a train coming.”

The $30 million in improvement funding comes from Proposition C, a half-cent sales tax adopted by LA County voters in 1990. The safety updates began in February 2016 and are expected to be finished by October 2017.

Stephanie Rivera, assistant editor and reporter at The Long Beach Post, posted a video on Twitter from the Blue Line’s Wardlow Station in Long Beach, where Mayor Eric Garcetti and Metro officials unveiled safety improvements to the press this week.

In the video, the new gate and safety signs are on display.

More than 81,000 commuters, students and tourists board the Blue Line train on weekdays, according to Metro. This year, the line turned 25 years old.

Gonzalez said the Blue Line’s history of collisions with pedestrians and cars is an issue, but not the main motivator for the updates.

The pedestrian collision rate on the Blue Line is more than three times higher than the Pasadena Gold Line and Expo Line combined. In the past five years, 20 people have died from non-suicide fatalities on the Blue Line. The Gold and Expo lines combined had one fatality, even though the number of train miles operated was the same for all three lines.

“These incidences are either a person trying to commit suicide or a person not handling their motor vehicle in a safe way, not the driver of the train’s fault,” he said.

In January 2014, Metro began a giant overhaul to the 25-year-old Blue Line to replace power stations, overhead power lines, tracks and rail cars and station platforms. Those updates are scheduled to continue through fiscal year 2019.