RAILROAD'S RELUCTANCE TO IMPROVE CROSSINGS THREATENS AREA'S ECONOMY

The $950 million Alameda Corridor East extension, considered a key rail link to expedite the flow of imports from downtown L.A. to inland destinations nationwide, could be delayed indefinitely due to Union Pacific Corp.'s lack of support for the project. While failure to undertake the eastward rail extension would not impede rail traffic, it could severely disrupt the San Gabriel Valley economy, one of the most robust in the region. That's because freight trains are getting ever longer as import volume booms, and those trains are blocking surface streets for significant periods of time. "Traffic and access to our businesses are the biggest problems facing local economic growth," said Harry Baldwin, president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. "The San Gabriel Valley has been the economic growth engine for L.A. County for the last 10 years, and we need the Alameda Corridor East to continue to grow." The primary purpose of Alameda Corridor East would be to alleviate tie-ups at train crossings by installing 21 rail/street grade separations (either underpasses or overpasses). But those costly improvements would do nothing to speed trains along any faster, meaning they wouldn't make Union Pacific any more money. "So far, there is no added economic incentive to this project that would make it more attractive to Union Pacific," said Mike Furtney, a company spokesman in San Francisco. "We don't want to be perceived as the big stick in the mud, but the reality is that we're in business to make money." Of course, so are thousands of companies throughout the San Gabriel Valley. And their ability to do so could be dramatically impaired as delivery trucks, employees and customers are stuck in their cars waiting for mile-and-a-half-long trains to pass. A recent survey by the San Gabriel Economic Partnership found that few area residents are familiar with the potential for increased train traffic or even knew about the corridor project. That includes businesspeople. "It's amazing that more businesses have not been actively involved," said Elain Cullen, who as senior regional manager for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. heads up the business assistance program for the partnership. "I really think it's one of those issues that some have heard about, but not really considered what's involved," Cullen added. "You worry that businesses won't get involved until the trains start coming." The trains, of course, are already coming. But they will come much more frequently, and they'll be much longer, once the Alameda Corridor is completed in 2002. That high-speed rail line linking local seaports to downtown L.A. is already well along in its construction.

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