When I glanced through the LA Times this morning I noticed a story about a collision on the Blue Line. The train and a bus collided, injuring 7, and doubtless severely damaging the bus.
This made me think about grade separated rail (i.e. trains without intersections), which made me think about Damien Goodmon, which made me think about the Expo Line, the next light rail line slated to open in LA (in 2011), which, like the Blue Line, is mostly at grade (i.e. at street level, with intersections).
The latest news is that the California Public Utilities Commission approved a plan to build a new station at Farmdale Ave., near Dorsey High School, which has been a flash point for Goodmon and his grade separation advocacy.
It seems like Mr. Goodmon has managed to make himself quite a few enemies in the blogosphere (look at the comments here for example). Metro and pretty much the entire political elite of Los Angeles County want the lines to be built as planned.
My take on this is that grade separation is great. It makes trains faster, safer, potentially less noisy (if done right) and less disruptive to traffic. It's also expensive. But when we think about the cost of at-grade versus grade-separated we have to remember that at-grade means more collisions will happen. These collisions have costs. Sometimes they cost people their lives. In the latest example, Metro probably lost a bus, which isn't exactly cheap to replace. Collisions also have a PR cost: they make Metro look bad, regardless of fault.
The first phase of the Expo Line will be built largely as planned, albeit with a new station. But the battle for grade separations is unlikely to end.