A manual switching station dating from the first half of the last century still controls the intersection of tracks at the unsightly patch of industrial wasteland known as Redondo Junction.

Sandwiched between Amtrak rail yards, the Los Angeles River and a mixture of cement factories and wastepaper-packing plants, the junction is the point where cargo trains traveling north from the seaports cross the Amtrak and Metrolink commuter trains heading south from Union Station.

The crisscross regularly creates a mess of cargo, truck and passenger traffic choking the area, not to mention asphyxiating levels of exhaust from all the idled vehicles.

Mile-long cargo trains crawl past at 5 miles per hour, backing up street traffic along Santa Fe Avenue and Washington Boulevard for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. That is, if the trains are moving at all. Passenger trains coming from Union Station have precedence over cargo trains and can bring local street traffic, including emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks, to an indefinite standstill.

But the nightmare that has long existed and continually worsened at Redondo Junction is expected to fade away toward the end of this year, thanks to a project that is being hailed as something of an engineering wonder.

It is nothing less than a complete transformation of Redondo Junction. The project, a key portion of the $2.4 billion Alameda Corridor rail project, involves putting cargo train tracks above or below city streets and passenger train tracks, so all the various vehicles that have been in each other's way for so long are suddenly traversing their own unimpeded course. It's an intricate array of concrete and steel, tons and tons of it, that will soon orchestrate a seemless choreography of vehicular bodies in motion.

"Technically, this was a tremendous challenge to design," said John Rinard, vice president of DMJM and former chief engineer of the Alameda Corridor engineering team. "The geometrics of the different systems are so intertwined that whatever you move at one point creates a problem one mile farther down."

Aside from the technical challenge, the engineering team had to contend with the substandard pre-existing infrastructure in the area and the interests of all the parties affected by the project, from the railroad companies to the municipalities and surrounding businesses.

"Usually, after we had met with all the parties, we needed to go right back to the drawing board," said Rinard. "But the biggest benefactors will ultimately be the local communities, like the city of Vernon, which now can get completely closed off by the freight trains, because they will experience the biggest congestion relief."

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