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'Ghost Train' Fix to Be Slight, 3 Months Away

Transportation officials are looking to shave the wait time at Del Obispo Street in San Juan Capistrano from 70 seconds to 45-60 seconds.

The ghost train phenomenon occurs in San Juan Capistrano when the arms go down, but no train passes. Patch photo credit: Penny Arévalo
The ghost train phenomenon occurs in San Juan Capistrano when the arms go down, but no train passes. Patch photo credit: Penny Arévalo

Fifteen months after transportation officials promised a quick solution to the dreaded “ghost train” – the phenomenon when the arms go down at the Del Obispo Street railroad crossing but no train passes – a slight fix may finally be on its way.

Jennifer Bergener, director of rail programs for the Orange County Transportation Authority, came before the City Council Tuesday night to apologize for the delays, whose causes were several-fold – and to say the best she could promise is a shorter wait for the ghost trains.

“It should be roughly a minute downtime when the trains are sitting at the station. If we can get it down to 45 seconds, we will,” Bergener said. In 2012, she said the average delay was 70 seconds.

The partial fix is only 90 days away, she added. It will come after some additional field studies.

“That’s a very discouraging report,” said Councilman Roy Byrnes.

Councilman Larry Kramer agreed.

“We’re in no better shape than we were three years ago. That’s very disappointing,” he said.

The long-term solution is positive train control, a GPS-guided, computerized system to monitor train travel, Bergener said. But it’s at least two years away.

When the council last heard from OCTA in October 2012, officials promised some relief in about six months’ time. Bergener said the delay was caused by having to find outside consultants because Metrolink did not have the in-house expertise.

In addition, Metrolink’s financial troubles delayed hiring the consultant, Bergener said, adding that all the resources are now in place to lessen the problem in short order. 

rob January 22, 2014 at 01:11 PM
There should be no wait time.
Jim Reardon January 22, 2014 at 02:14 PM
It is shocking that Metrolink can claim they have financial troubles. OCTA is one of the richest agencies in the region with a budget that rivals the county itself. They waste millions every year on the most outrageous and fanciful environmental projects (e.g., rental bicycle kiosks, native plant remediation, and environmental lobbying), and yet a basic operational and safety requirement goes untended for years. Maybe if they considered the pollution generated by all the cars idling at the crossing, this would get some priority? Don't get your hopes up. This crowd might just put up signs (no idling) and claim it as a solution.
rob January 22, 2014 at 05:26 PM
I have sat in this mess several times, with people losing their tempers, making illegal U-turns, traffic backing up in the intersections looking like time stood still, and more. This is ridiculous. Yep, lets create more smog, etc. etc. but hey it will go from 70 seconds to 60. Kidding me? Someone needs to be fired.
Clint Worthington January 22, 2014 at 07:01 PM
What the OCTA has stated is complete lip service. Nothing has changed. Metrolink/OCTA still does not have a working PTC system. In fact the railroads are asking the government to extend to 2020 the implementation of PTC because they are unable to get it to work by the deadline. As the OCTA explained at the City Council meeting fifteen months ago, PTC is not designed to activate crossing gates. The OCTA told us fifteen months ago that the independent consultant said that taking out the switch to the siding at Verdugos would solve the Ghost Train. I explained the switch has nothing to do with the Ghost Train effect. We have waisted fifteen months for nothing. If you think that traffic signal at the Del Obispo crossing is stupid, thank Sam Allevato and Larry Kramer. They both voted for it. The OCTA testified the traffic signal was not required.
Matt Gaffney January 23, 2014 at 01:07 PM
How come this doesn't surprise me? After sitting through that meeting in 2012 it was readily apparent to me, as always, that the chumps in No. Cty don't give a hoot about our problems in Capo. That attitude hasn't changed in the nearly 60 years I've lived in Capo.

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