Chapter Number #334: Of Mudflats and Methane Volcanoes - September 9, 2015

The Colorado River passes by Moab, with the Moab Pile on the left and the Matheson Wetlands on the Right - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A Once-Great River Rises on the Colorado Plateau

The Upper Colorado River Basin -

By the time the Colorado River passes Moab, Utah, it already carries a heavy load of minerals, trash and sewage. By mid-summer, water levels drop, exposing driftwood, sewage and trash along the shore. Only the next spring flood will loosen these stinking mixtures of organic material and plastic from the shoreline. In 2014, when I saw methane bubbles rising from one such stinking mass, it opened my eyes wide to the damage already done to this once great river.

A Place Called Potash, Utah -

Potash Brine runs freely, destroying hundreds of acres at the Intrepid-Moab Potash Cane Creek Plant - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After skirting the Matheson Wetlands along one bank and the Moab Pile on the other, the Colorado River descends through the Portal and on to a place called Potash, Utah. To make potash sound more interesting, the owners of the Cane Creek Potash Plant named themselves "Intrepid" Potash-Moab, LLC. Using dubious and undocumented Colorado River water rights, Intrepid Potash-Moab infuses millions of gallons of river water annually into the Cane Creek Anticline.

After injection, the anticline collapses ever so slightly. This subsidence burps out untold acre-feet of a brine solution, which is rich in potash salts. After drying and processing, Intrepid-Moab ships the resulting product out via rail and interstate highway. Later, agents and retailers resell the packaged product to farmers and home gardeners. The success of the corporate farming, as we know it today depends on finished potash and other synthetic fertilizers for its success.

Aerial view of the Intrepid-Moab Postash Cane Creek Plant shows a swath of environmental destruction caused by cascading potash brine - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Intrepid-Moab uses solar power to dry its potash brine in shallow, lined ponds. These ponds cover many colorful acres of bench land overlooking the Colorado River. From the Potash Road, four-wheelers access the Shafer Trail by traversing through the Cane Creek Plant. If terrestrial scenes of chemical degradation and poor stewardship of the land are not enough for you, I suggest an air tour of the area. On a Redtail Aviation flight out of Moab’s Canyonlands Field several years ago, our pilot banked the plane sufficiently for me to capture some revealing photos of the Cane Creek Plant.

Gushing from injection well sites that are high up on the bench land, the upwelling brine cascades unchecked until it reaches the settling ponds below. Any miscalculation of volume could result in overflow of the settling ponds. From the air, you can see a white crust that has dried upon the walls of small canyons leading down to the Colorado River. This tells me that Intrepid Potash-Moab has experienced both overflow and leakage at the settling ponds. Confluence of the Colorado (left) and Green Rivers (right), south of Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Dwarfing any inputs upstream in Utah and Colorado, Intrepid Potash-Moab could be the largest contributor of organic solids anywhere in the Upper Colorado River Basin. After potash spills into the river, it goes back into solution, adding to the salinity of the water and turning the river into an organic time bomb.

Mudflats and Methane Volcanoes -

After its confluence with the Green River, the first full stop for the Colorado River is at the upper reaches of Lake Powell in Southeastern Utah. Soon after the lake reached its full potential size in the early 1980s, its water level began to fluctuate and then decline. During the past fourteen years of persistent drought, Lake Powell lost nearly half of its peak volume. Today, optimists might say that Lake Powell is “half full”. Almost unanimously, climate scientists agree that the reservoir is “half empty” and will continue to decline.

In this aerial view of the upper reaches of Lake Powell, receding water exposes mudflats where once was lake water - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With many miles of former lakebed exposed to sunlight at the upper end of Lake Powell, the environment on those mudflats has deteriorated significantly. As water laden with heavy metals and organic material arrives at the upper end of the lake, it mixes with silt and sand. The result is a phenomenon known as methane volcanoes. Methane gas can be a byproduct of flatulence in cattle, coal mining or the baking of organic mud. Most people are familiar with carbon dioxide as our most ubiquitous “greenhouse gas”. Fewer people might know that methane is fifteen times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide puts the effervescent fizz in our soft drinks. Methane smells bad, is flammable and if contained, may explode.

The Navajo Reservation is Coal Country -

Hiding their activities in shame, this highway sign for Peabody Western Coal Company at Black Mesa disappeared several years ago - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)First, the stinking, organic mudflats at the upper end of Lake Powell create and release untold amounts of methane gas. Usually, warm air and light gases like methane rise from the surface and dissipate in the upper atmosphere. Often methane from Lake Powell remains in the lower atmosphere, trapped near the ground by an atmospheric inversion layer. If an atmospheric inversion is present, warm air aloft traps hot and volatile gasses below, thus creating a bubble of noxious air at or near ground level.

Not ironically, a huge methane gas bubble now floats above the Four Corners region. Is this unprecedented bubble of volatile gas the result of Navajo Nation coal mining, cattle flatulence or the stinking mudflats and methane volcanoes at the upper reaches of Lake Powell? Personally, I am betting on a combination of coal mining and fertilized mudflats. Thank you for your fertile potash input, Intrepid Potash-Moab, LLC.

Glen Canyon Damned -

In this 1965 picture taken by the author, Rainbow Bridge became a short day hike after the flooding of Glen Canyon, thus creating Lake Powell - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After flowing over and sifting through the mudflats, the Colorado River enters many miles of forced confinement between sandstone canyon walls. There it drops its remaining sediment to the bottom of what once was a desert garden of legendary beauty. Known as Glen Canyon, living humans who saw it in its untrammeled glory are now few and elderly. Only through old black and white photographs and essays by such writers as John Wesley Powell and Edward Abbey do we know about a place once visited only by dory boat or river raft.

Once the water in Lake Powell reaches the penstocks and electrical turbines at Glen Canyon Dam, it is cold, dark and nearly devoid of oxygen. The portion of lake water that rests below the deepest intake on the dam, we call the “dead pool”. The lake water in the dead pool is as near to dead as fresh water can
This 1965 photo, by the author, shows Lake Powell at half-full, with Glen Canyon Dam in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)be. Once released downstream, dam water is clear, cold and capable of supporting no life higher than green fronded algae. Such algae grow wherever the water flow is slow enough to support life. If Colorado means, “colored red” or “Red River”, immediately below Glen Canyon Dam, that name does not apply. Running clear, cold and fringed with green algae, its name should revert to “Green River”.

This is Part 1 of a three-part article. To read Part 2, please click HERE.

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By James McGillis at 02:56 PM | Colorado River | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter Number #333: Metrolink Anti-Derailment Blade Failure - September 6, 2015

Hyundai-Rotem Cab-Control Car similar to the one involved in the Metrolink 2015 Oxnard collision and derailment - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Metrolink Refuses to Admit Failure of Rotem Anti-Derailment Plows

Recently, both Ventura County Star and L.A. Times articles reported on Metrolink’s unexpected decision to place newly leased Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight engines at the head-end of all Metrolink trains. Both articles omit important safety related information. In the Star article, Moorpark City Councilman Keith Millhouse, a member of the railroad's board of directors said, “… since we don’t know what role, if any, the cab cars played, we won’t speculate on it. The only way to run the railroad and take away a potential risk, if any, until we know the answer, is to put locomotives up front.”

Metrolink's Hyundai-Rotem Cab-Control Car No. 645 lost its anti-derailment plow in a collision with a Ford F-450 utility truck and trailer in Oxnard - Click for detail of the missing plow (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In February 2015, a Metrolink passenger train with a Hyundai-Rotem cab car in front derailed after hitting a Ford F-450 utility truck and trailer. Predawn, that rig became high-centered on to the tracks near the 5th St. and Rice Ave. grade crossing outside of Oxnard. After the collision, Metrolink officials were quick to declare that the state-of-the-art cars with energy absorbing crush zones, heavier construction and anti-derailing features appeared to reduce deaths and injuries in the accident.

The direct quote, at that time was: "We can safely say that the technology worked," Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten told reporters. "It minimized the impact of what (could have been) a very serious collision. It would have been much worse without it." Now, almost six months after the deadly Oxnard collision, Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten, or is it now Scott Johnson should retract those erroneous and self-serving statements. It was a "very serious collision".
As a result, Sr. Engineer Glenn Steele died. There were twenty-seven injured, including some with life-changing consequences. What could be worse; if everybody died?

In the recent L.A. Times article, Keith Millhouse said, “This is an interim measure until the plow can be evaluated and beefed up if necessary. This is going to be costly for the railroad, but you can't put a price on safety.” Further, the article read, “Millhouse stressed that the temporary restrictions on the Rotem vehicles relate specifically to how the plow performed in the crash, not the larger Another angle on Metrolink Cab-Control Car No. 645 clearly shows that the anti-derailment plow detached from the vehicle during the 2015 Oxnard collision - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)debate over the safety of cab cars”.

With the Hyundai-Rotem anti-derailment plow, there is no “performance” issue. It is a clear-cut case of structural failure. As demonstrated by news photos taken soon after the collision, the plow, which was formerly attached to Hyundai-Rotem cab car No. 645 is nowhere in sight. As the most important piece of forensic evidence from that deadly collision, what happened to that anti-derailment plow? Is it in the custody of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)? Did contractors who cleaned up the crash site discard it along with other assorted debris? If no one saved that blade, how can Metrolink or the NTSB determine the circumstances of its detachment from the cab car?

This concept drawing of an Electro-Motive Tier 4 locomotive has a minimal crush-zone and an anti-derailment plow of dubious size and strength - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)To add insult to injury, Metrolink announced just days ago, that it will purchase up to forty-nine state-of-the-art Electro-Motive Tier 4 locomotives. The new locomotives will be replacements for its aging, unreliable and admittedly un-maintained fleet of 1990’s diesel locomotives. With not so much as a prototype of the new Electro-Motive Tier 4 locomotive available for inspection or testing, an artist’s rendering is all that we have to go on.

In the 2015 Oxnard collision, when it impinged upon a Ford F-450 utility truck and trailer, the lightweight Hyundai-Rotem anti-derailment plow experienced a catastrophic failure. Already, Electro-Motive is touting their new Tier 4
locomotive as the lightest weight (280,000 lb.) locomotive available on the market today. If lighter is better, why is Metrolink leasing up to fifty-eight of the heaviest BNSF locomotives available to head up its commuter trains? Without a prototype to test, how do we know if the anti-derailment plow installed on Metrolink’s new Tier 4 locomotives will pass the “F-450 Truck & Trailer Crash Test”?

Metrolink's current fleet of diesel locomotives dating back to the 1990's is in efficient, unreliable and unavailable in sufficient numbers to run at the head-end of each train - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Electro-Motive website shows a futuristic picture of a cab-forward locomotive “design” with an anti-derailment plow attached. With its slightly bulbous nose, it looks like a bullet train from one of Governor Gerry Brown’s high-speed rail dreams. If not for the thirty-plus grade crossings on the Metrolink Ventura County Line alone, this lightweight locomotive might be a good idea.

Until necessary grade-crossing safety improvements are completed, I will expect the "heavy iron" of a BNSF freight locomotive up front on my next Metrolink Ventura County Line ride. In block letters, Metrolink should emblazon each BNSF locomotive with the words, "BNSF MEANS TONNAGE". Still we will have the uninformed or unsuspecting, such as Mr. Jose Sanchez Ramirez who's F-450 debacle led to all of this controversy. Most local commuters will slow to a stop when they see the Great BNSF Behemoth approaching their grade crossing. Suicide is still a potential factor, but with BNSF tonnage up front, most Metrolink commuters involved in a collision will probably survive and prosper, even after such an encounter.

For decades, airlines have told us what aircraft will service our flight. So too should Metrolink tell us, what is the consort of any given train. If there is a cab car up front or an obsolete, Bombardier bi-level coach anywhere in the mix, I will not board or ride that train. It is simply too dangerous.

"BNSF to the Rescue" - Metrolink will lease up to fifty-eight heavy locomotives, as seen here crossing the Colorado River at Needles to head up all Metrolink trains in the future - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Safety related information released by Metrolink, or its parent organization, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) is so rare and nuanced, that it fosters conspiracy theories within me. Helping to cheer me up, a source close to the Metrolink investigation recently told me, “I believe the NTSB has the plow and there is no conspiracy to steal it or to foil the investigation. Metrolink will not give details, but I believe that the NTSB informed the railroad about the failure. It is amazing that they are replacing the Rotem cab cars with engines, using an ‘emergency provision’ related to safety. More to come.”

Being closed-mouthed and tight-lipped, SCRRA and Metrolink do little to create or enhance a positive image for passenger rail service in Southern California. It is time for someone or some organization to break through the “cloak of invisibility” that the SCRRA has thrown over its own proceedings. In violation of the California Open Meeting Law (Brown Act), the meeting in which the SCRRA board decided to lease the fifty-eight freight locomotives was closed to A typical BNSF freight locomotive has three heavy axles and wheel-sets up front, plus a large anti-derailment plow and heavy steel to protect the operator - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)both the press and the public. The public has the right to know details regarding the lease of fifty-eight BNSF locomotives, as well as the cost, including who will be footing that bill.

Are the two interlocking passenger rail agencies (SCRRA & Metrolink) serious about competing in the Southern California commuter marketplace? If so, they should reformulate the SCRRA board to include railroad operating and safety experts, not more politicians and political appointees. Until they do, you can expect Metrolink’s operational and legal costs to skyrocket, while ridership continues its long, slow decline. SCRRA and Metrolink, it is time for transparency and reform.

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By James McGillis at 11:29 PM | Colorado River | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter Number #332: Metrolink to Spend $338 Million - September 2, 2015

Artist's rendering of a new Electro-Motive Diesel-electric locomotive similar to those recently purchased by Metrolink - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Metrolink to Spend $338 Million on New Locomotives, but Zero for Passenger Safety

According to the Los Angeles Times “engines of change” article, Metrolink plans to spend $200 million on twenty-nine new “Tier 4” locomotives from Electro-Motive, a Caterpillar, Inc. subsidiary. That means each new engine will cost almost $6.9 million. Options on another twenty new Tier 4 locomotives will push that replacement scheme to a total of almost $338 million. Using exhaust gas re-circulation technologies, engines on Tier 4 locomotives are designed to lower both nitrogen oxide and particulates in their exhaust stream. Since Metrolink will be the first passenger rail system in the country to operate Tier 4 locomotives, both reliability and fuel economy remain in question.

Supposedly decommissioned after the purchase of new coaches, obsolete and dangerous Bombardier bi-level coaches were still included in many 2015 Metrolink commuter trains - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As of 2012, Metrolink had 137 Bombardier cab-cars and coaches in its operational fleet. In 2013, Metrolink spent $263 million to replace what it said was “substantially all” of its obsolete Bombardier bi-level coaches. The actual purchase included a mix 137 new Hyundai-Rotem cab-cars and coaches, for an average price of $1.9 million each.

As early as 2005, Metrolink admitted that, “fixed worktables” in Bombardier bi-level coaches “added to injuries” in a Glendale collision that year. Of the eleven deaths in that collision, no one knows how many died because of impact with fixed worktables. In 2005, a Metrolink spokesperson said, "We are not going to start ripping out the old tables tomorrow". In the 2008 Metrolink Chatsworth collision, more than one passenger died as a result of abdominal or thoracic impact with a fixed worktable. Despite death and near dismemberment in Chatsworth, Metrolink never did retrofit those coaches with safer worktables, nor did they cordon them off from passenger use.

Undated photo of an obsolete Bombardier bi-level coach similar to those still included in the active Metrolink fleet - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The 2013 purchase of 137 new Hyundai-Rotem coaches with padded, frangible tables was supposed to solve the “killer table” problem that Metrolink had previously swept under the rug. Despite their average of over one million miles traveled, Metrolink did not retire all of their obsolete Bombardier bi-level coaches. Instead, in many of their current trains, Metrolink intersperses Bombardier coaches with incompatible Hyundai-Rotem coaches. The Hyundai-Rotem coaches employ crash energy management (CEM) technology, while the Bombardier coaches are inelastic and prone to decoupling in a collision.

Family photo of Senior Metrolink Engineer Glenn Steele, who lost his life when an obsolete Bombardier coach decoupled from the cab-car in which he rode out a collision in Oxnard, February 2015 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet published its final report regarding the February 2015 Oxnard Metrolink collision, which took the life of Metrolink engineer Glenn Steele, and injured twenty-eight. When it does, it is likely to find that the obsolete Bombardier bi-level coach riding in the second position was a major contributing factor to the decoupling and derailment of all five cars in that train.

If Metrolink replaced “substantially all” of its obsolete Bombardier bi-level coaches, why was Metrolink passenger Marc Gerstel riding across the Oxnard Plain in that ill-fated Metrolink train? In the Oxnard Metrolink collision, why was he tumbled against several “killer worktables” in a coach that should have been retired years ago? Apparently, in Metrolink-speak, “substantially all” is not the same as “all”. It is time for Metrolink to go public on this issue and scrap all Bombardier bi-level coaches still remaining in their operating fleet.

Metrolink sold eleven obsolete and dangerous Bombardier bi-level coaches to Caltrain, in Northern California, where they operate without benefit of a cab-car to cushion impact in a collision - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In early 2014, Metrolink quietly began selling off their excess fleet of Bombardier bi-level coaches with “killer worktables” still installed. If Metrolink-surplus Bombardier bi-level coaches should experience a collision, unsuspecting Caltrain passengers heading to or from Silicon City (San Francisco) may soon subject themselves to severed bodies. Did Metrolink disclose the unsafe worktables to Caltrain prior to purchase or did both agencies ignore their fiduciary and legal responsibilities?

In 2012, Metrolink considered Bombardier bi-level coaches with more than one million miles of service to be functionally obsolete. If those coaches were obsolete in Southern California, why are they acceptable for service in Northern California? As P.T Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute".

For the whole story regarding Metrolink's passenger safety issues, please visit our website, http://5thandRice.com.

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By James McGillis at 03:22 PM | | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter Number #330: The Glenn Steele Memorial Overpass  - July 24, 2015

Rice Ave. south approach to Fifth St. and the Coast Line railroad tracks in Oxnard shows insufficient warning signs and derelict street markings at the approach to the deadliest grade crossing in Ventura County, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Substandard Safety Prevails at the Fifth and Rice Railroad Grade Crossing in Oxnard, California

I have lived in Ventura County, California for almost half my life. I love the place, but I know its history as a formerly remote, rural county whose patron families did not like change. In the 1950s and 1960s, their mantra was, “If we don’t build roads, no one will come”. With or without adequate roads, the people came. In 1970, the county population was 400,000. In 2013, it had more than doubled, to 840,000.

The heavy steel "plows" on Union Pacific Railroad locomotives are designed to clear the tracks of any stalled vehicle in their way - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2004, Ventura County voters spurned a half-cent sales tax that would have been devoted to transportation projects. In 2008, county officials again ran that idea up the flagpole, only to see it shot down from every direction. Continued attempts to raise sales taxes in Ventura County was like a parody of the famous line in the movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. “Roads? We don’t need no stinkin roads!”

In July 2015, the Ventura County Transportation commission announced the results of their most recent poll regarding a new half cent sales tax in Ventura County, which would fund transportation improvements. Although sixty percent of respondents favored the idea, a ballot measure would require a two-thirds positive vote to succeed. If the measure appears on the 2016 ballot, we can expect a groundswell of opposition. Their likely rallying cry will be, “Taxes? We don’t need no stinkin taxes”.

The small memorial to Metrolink engineer Glenn Steele, who lost his life in the February 2015 train collision at Fifth and Rice in Oxnard, California - Click for detailed image of the memorial (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In July 2015, train crash survivor Marc Gerstel and I visited the February 2015 Metrolink Oxnard collision site. First, we paid our respects at the memorial for engineer Glenn Steele, who died from injuries sustained in the collision. Then, Gerstel and I agreed that we would use my characters, Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone to make our visit more meaningful. Almost immediately, Plush Kokopelli jumped up on the Rice Ave. “crossbuck”, which is the generic term for the big overhead railroad warning sign. Aiming his flute down toward ground level, Plush Kokopelli pointed out a serious safety deficiency. If left unattended, the deficiency could have catastrophic consequences for motorists and train passengers at the crossing.

Coney the Traffic Cone sits next to the damaged base of the crossbuck sign at Fifth and Rice railroad grade crossing in Oxnard, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On the cast metal base of the crossbuck, one of four support flanges was split wide open, thus weakening the entire structure. Since the split flange faced Rice Ave., I assumed that a speeding vehicle had hit the metal base quite hard. If another vehicle were to strike the base at that vulnerable spot, the crossbuck tower-sign could collapse onto the roadway and even the railroad tracks.

Meanwhile, Coney had waited patiently while we took pictures of the damaged base of the crossbuck. By then, he could hardly contain himself. While standing by the crossbuck, Coney had made friends with a large Caltrans traffic cone, which was lying on its side, unable to right itself. After Coney got my attention, I tipped the Caltrans Coney up, so that it could stand on its own base. Since I have channeled Kokopelli and Coney for years, I could see that
The "plow" fitted to this Hyundai Rotem Cab-Control Car is identical to the one attached to Metrolink Train No. 102, which was ripped away in its collision with a Ford F-450 work truck and trailer, leading to the death of Metrolink engineer Glenn Steele - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)my Coney wanted to help Caltrans Coney once again be a productive member of the safety cone community.

Most news reports about the February 2015 Metrolink collision are incomplete. The driver of the F-450 work truck, Mr. Jose Sanchez-Ramirez was not a “recent transplant from Tucson, Arizona”. In fact, he was making his first-ever trip from Tucson to the Oxnard Plain. There, he was to deliver welding equipment to one of the local farms. The previous day, after driving from Tucson to San Diego, his original rig broke down. After waiting for delivery of a replacement truck, he headed north toward Ventura County. Somewhere along the way, he was in a minor traffic accident, which only delayed him further.

In July 2015, five months after a deadly Metrolink train collision at the grade crossing, author Jim McGillis invited Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone to help find simple, low-cost solutions to the safety issues still present at Fifth and Rice in Oxnard, California  - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After driving all day and all night without rest, Jose Sanchez-Ramirez arrived before dawn on Rice Ave., heading south toward Fifth St. Having no GPS guidance, Sanchez-Ramirez relied on a printout of an internet map to guide him. There, exhausted and in the dark, he mistook the railroad tracks for Fifth St. and turned too soon. Eighty feet west, he stopped on the tracks, thus setting up the pre-dawn collision with Metrolink Train No. 102.

In July 2015, Marc Gerstel and I stood where Sanchez-Ramirez made his fateful turn. Beyond the crossbuck, but before the railroad tracks, I placed Caltrans Coney in his rightful place. If Caltrans Coney had been there, silently standing guard between the crossbuck and the tracks on that fateful morning, there would have been no collision. The vigilant Caltrans Coney would have warned Jose Sanchez-Ramirez against his errant turn. If that turn had not happened, Glenn Steele would be alive today and Marc Gerstel would still be an adjunct professor of dental technology at LA City College.

Battered, but not beaten, Caltrans Coney stands guard at the Fifth and Rice railroad grade crossing, hoping to prevent motorists from turning on to the railroad tracks at that derelict and confusing intersection - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I found my first Coney the Traffic Cone almost a decade ago. Since then, I have collected many of the mistreated and abandoned traffic cones that I have found along the highway. Some were in good shape while others were nearly shredded. The good thing about a traffic cone is that if run over by a vehicle, more often than not, it will pop back into shape and keep on coning. If you look along the roadsides of America, eventually you will spot a Coney, standing or lying there with nothing productive to do.

If you find an abandoned Coney along the road, please pick it up. If you are in Ventura County, please carry it to the Fifth and Rice grade crossing. Once there, place it along the side of the road, between the crossbuck and the tracks. Then, drive away smiling, because you may have prevented the next Metrolink collision at Rice Ave. and Fifth St. in Oxnard, California. As Marc Plush Kokopelli sits with Caltrans Coney, hoping that he can stay at the Fifth and Rice railroad grade crossing and save others from the fate of Metrolink Train No. 102 in February 2015 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Gerstel, Coney, Kokopelli and I drove away from the scene; the battered and beaten Caltrans Coney proudly stood guard at the deadliest railroad crossing in Ventura County.

After visiting the collision site, Marc Gerstel gave me the latest facts regarding that intersection. “According to David Golonski, the chairperson of the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency, this is the second busiest rail corridor in the nation. For the past twenty years, the Rice Ave. and 5th Street crossing has earned the label as the ‘deadliest crossing in Ventura County’. With a total of fourteen accidents and four deaths, it is in the ‘top-23 list’ of most dangerous crossings in California. It ranks as the third most deadly in Southern California. The proposed solution by Mr. Leahy, which is to install ‘pavement "Pavement sensors" at the Fifth and Rice grade crossing would not have saved Metrolink engineer Glenn Steel (pictured here) from the February 2015 train collision that took his life - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)sensors that would be faster and cheaper’ than a grade separation is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.”

According to the office of Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D - Agoura Hills), from 2006 - 2014, the Federal Highway Administration California Division has received over $42 million in federal money intended specifically for remediation of dangerous rail crossings. According to Malcolm Dougherty, Director of Caltrans, the grade crossing at Rice and Fifth is not high enough on the statewide priority list to receive any of that funding. Despite Dougherty's statement that, "We are committed to expeditiously obligating and utilizing all federal funds for this (safety) effort", to date none of the $42 million has been obligated or spent.

As seen here in an artist's rendering, the Glenn Steel Memorial Overpass has yet to gain support from the City of Oxnard, Ventura County, Caltrans, Metrolink, Amtrak, Union Pacific or the LOSSAN rail agency - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If the previously allocated, yet un-utilized federal funding were to be allocated for improvements at the Fifth and Rice grade crossing, there would be sufficient funds to build and dedicate the proposed "Glenn Steele Memorial Overpass" at the site of his fatal injuries. If not, I expect the sixth extinction to be complete and the next ice age to commence before we see any mitigation of the dangers still evident at Fifth and Rice, in Oxnard, California.

This is Part 2 of a two-part article. To read Part 1, please click HERE.

To read all of our Ventura County railroad safety articles in one place, please visit 5thandRice.com.

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By James McGillis at 11:57 AM | | Comments (0) | Link

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