A train vs. car accident briefly closed the intersection of Lincoln and Colorado on May 11.

The crash is the second on the tracks and comes just a week before the line is scheduled to open to the public.

According to the Santa Monica Fire Department, emergency responders received a call at about 7:30 p.m. of a train/car collision. Three engines, one ladder truck, one USAR heavy rescue vehicle and a Battalion Chief responded.

The Santa Monica Police Department said a Tacoma truck was driving parallel to the train eastbound on Colorado when the truck driver made an illegal left turn onto Lincoln.

The train clipped the back of the truck causing moderate damage to the vehicle but little damage to the train. The train remained on the tracks and no injuries were reported from the car passengers or train operator.

Witnesses reported seeing the truck driver discard a bag immediately after the accident and Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez said the driver, John Costello, was arrested when officers determined the bag contained cocaine.

The intersection was reopened at about 9 p.m.

A similar crash occurred in December of 2015 when a truck driver attempted to make an illegal left turn from westbound Colorado Avenue onto southbound 7th Street. The westbound train hit the cab of the truck, which was carrying construction materials. Left turns are prohibited along most of Colorado Avenue adjacent to the tracks and the truck’s turn was in violation of posted signs. In that incident, the train came off its tracks but remained upright.

Critics of the Expo line have long maintained the train should have been built above the street and others have questioned the lack of traditional crossing gates along the length of the line.

City Manager Rick Cole said Metro officials have experience opening trains at street level but everyone is adapting to the particular conditions in Santa Monica.

“This is not the first line built on the street in Southern California but it is the first line built on Colorado in Santa Monica,” he said.

He said officials responded to the first incident by increasing signage and awareness campaigns along the tracks.

“I have been clear for months that we took this issue very seriously and we needed to mount both a very serious public education campaign and closely monitor the results of the testing,” he said.

Cole said the City has not taken any safety options off the table and will advocate for whatever it deems necessary as train operations increase but he said the two accidents shouldn’t be interpreted as evidence the line is unsafe.

“If we see a pattern emerge we’re going to advocate for whatever steps are necessary to protect public safety,” he said. “Everything has to be on the table but as of now, two accidents during the testing phase is not conclusive evidence that there should be physical changes in the construction.”

The 15.2-mile, $2.5-billion Expo project includes three stations in Santa Monica, including the western terminus at Colorado Avenue and 4th Street. Much of the funding is coming through Measure R, a sales tax initiative that Los Angeles County voters approved in 2008.

Traditional crossing gates are in place on the Eastern portion of the line, but gates are not throughout the project because the streets were deemed too narrow to house the necessary apparatus.

Cole said the installation of new fencing is an example of adapting to the needs of the community. Fencing has been installed along the center of the tracks and along some sections of sidewalk after officials reported a high number of pedestrians engaging in unsafe crossings.

“We continue to be concerned and will advocate for additional changes if they become warranted,” he said.

Santa Monica’s public service agencies have been preparing for Expo’s arrival.

Agencies have been participating in tabletop exercises and the fire department has worked through 13 different kinds of Expo incident including train vs. vehicle accidents, train vs. pedestrian, terrorist attacks, overcrowding at train stations, fires on a train or at a station and several law enforcement scenarios.

Officers have also been issuing tickets along the line for infractions targeting drivers, pedestrians and bicycle riders.

Two Santa Monica fire trucks have been outfitted with specialized equipment capable of lifting a derailed train and one truck is located on each side of the track.



Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...