At grade rail systems typically impose the most consistently disruptive and dangerous of activities onto already congested streets in urban settings. They are often located in public street rights of way or other existing surface corridors such as active or inactive railroad freight corridors.
In spite of the well documented negative impacts of at grade rail operations, local transportation authorities persist in planning and building adjacent facilities which are consistently under utilized, while imposing significant environmental, safety and traffic congestion impacts on the commercial and residential neighborhoods through which they pass.
Any steel wheel on steel freight or commuter rail system provides a major impact on the adjacent property because of its inherent noise and vibration. Freight operations in residential area have been restricted, and in some cases eliminated, because of these impacts. Freight operations in residential area have been restricted, and in some cases eliminated, because of these impacts. At grade rail commuter systems often have a greater impact because of the frequency of their operating schedules.
At grade, steel rail, steel wheeled trolley or train systems have demonstrated significant incompatibility and disruptive impacts in most existing urban settings to which they are introduced. There are few locations in which at grade rail systems do not cause a wide variety of negative and disruptive conditions to occur.
Misguided modeling and planning regimes continue to produce “preferred” routes and alternative plans that assume the potential rider population in the business and residential neighborhoods stretching along the rail route will somehow absorb, or flow into the system; although boarding and station locations lie beyond available shuttle or walking distance of most people in the transportation service corridor. Therefore, routes purported to be best suited to serving local populations do not offset or justify the disruptive impacts imposed on the local community or area of service.
By any measure, imposition of at grade rail systems into inappropriate or incompatible locations requires the most elaborate and expensive mitigation measures of any form of mass transportation. Crossing gates designed to prevent vehicle and pedestrian accidents may be required at a cost of up to $1,300,000 per crossing. In locations where crossing gates will not sufficiently mitigate or eliminate congestion or safety impacts, grade separations may be the only option that can provide reliable mitigation and safety. Grade separation structures, and alteration of hundreds of feet of rail bed and track on both sides of the separation can raise the cost of individual crossings ten to fifty times that of crossing gate installation.
Significant and fundamental differences in the performance, impacts and operating speed of the Pasadena-Foothill Gold Line light rail system can be readily observed between the portions of its route located in the 210 Freeway median, and the street-level route from Pasadena to Union Station. With no crossings or other conflicting elements in the freeway median route, the trains run uninhibited at freeway speeds, while the multiple street crossings and various neighborhoods and settings through which the downtown route passes require reduced speeds and cautious, albeit noisy, street crossings along the entire route.