Blue Line on pace for deadly, record-setting year
The Metro Blue Line — one of the busiest light rail lines in the nation — is on pace to have more deaths in 2012 than any other year in its 22-year history. Four of the fatalities this year were ruled suicides.
There have been 22 accidents and six fatalities so far this year.
The Blue Line, which has 26 million riders annually and extends from Long Beach to the 7th Street Metro Center in downtown Los Angeles, opened as the county's first light-rail line in 1990. It averaged 50.9 accidents annually during the first dozen years of operation, but that number dropped substantially over the next decade with an average of 27.9 accidents annually.
In 1999, the line earned the dubious standing as California's deadliest rail transit route as 10 people were killed and 40 others were injured in 50 accidents that year, most involving collisions with motor vehicles at street crossings.
Over the years, Metro has taken several steps to improve safety, including placing photo enforcement cameras at street crossings to discourage drivers from trying to race through intersections before a train can pass. Officials said the improvements contributed to a sharp decline in accidents.
The line had some of its lowest accident totals between 2008 and 2011, but "things have changed this past year," according to county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a board member of the Blue Line's operator, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"If numbers generated in the first half of the year are any indication, by year's end there could be more fatalities and twice as many suicides than any other year in the history of the rail line. Suicides alone account for a major portion of the increase in overall accidents," Yaroslavsky wrote to colleagues, calling for a deeper investigation.
"This has been an ongoing open sore for the MTA," Yaroslavsky said in an interview. "No other line that we operate, anywhere ... has this kind of fatality statistics.... Frankly I think it's long past time to take a look at what's going on."
Luis Manuel Martinez wore a picture of his dead son on a T-shirt and told Los Angeles County transportation officials Monday that the Blue Line light rail is unsafe, that too many people have died along its tracks and that something needs to be done immediately.
"This is what I call negligence," said Martinez, a 41-year-old automotive technician from the Willowbrook-Compton area. "How many more deaths have to occur in order for somebody to do something about it?"
Photo: There have been 22 accidents and six fatalities so far this year on the Blue Line. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times