Passengers board a Metrolink train in Burbank.

Passengers board a Metrolink train in Burbank. (Times Community News / October 16, 2012)

A $3.2-million project to improve rail crossing safety near the intersection of Buena Vista and Vanowen streets -- through which about 40 trains cross daily -- is slated to start on Monday after seven years of planning, city officials said.

A number of road and railway improvements, including a second left-turn lane on Vanowen, a right-turn lane on Buena Vista and new gates to keep pedestrians and motorists off the railroad track, are expected to ease traffic congestion and address safety concerns.

The at-grade crossing has been the site of numerous close calls and collisions as drivers mistake the railroad track for a roadway.

The crossing is on the stretch of railroad that brings trains to the Bob Hope Airport Metrolink-Amtrak station.

“We’ve had enough close calls where we were interested in making sure it was safer than it is now,” said Assistant Public Works Director Ken Johnson.

The project features a new rail crossing gate protection system with four pedestrian and three vehicle gates bordering the track, new medians and a new rail communication system to better detect oncoming train traffic.

The extra left-turn lane on Vanowen will allow for longer green lights on Buena Vista, which carries much of the city’s traffic.

Conceived in 2005, the project was stalled for several years due to a shortfall in funding. Since then, nine funding sources have been identified for the project, with the city investing about $2 million, Johnson said.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to construct this stuff,” Johnson said.

The project will likely take six months to complete, with periodic lane and road closures.

“We’ll try to minimize that,” Johnson said, adding that the city’s not planning construction during the two weeks before Christmas. “We don’t want the Empire shopping center to hurt.”

The improvements will qualify the crossing to be part of a “quiet zone,” meaning train engineers won’t have to sound the horn when approaching Buena Vista. But the city would have to apply to the Federal Railroad Administration for the status, and if approved, would have to accept all liability if a problem were to occur, Johnson said.

“Either way, it’s much safer than the current situation,” he said.

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