Federal officials who investigated a November 20, 2008 Metrolink train crash in Rialto say the commuter train that sideswiped a freight train had run a red signal, according to an Associated Press news report. Although four commuters suffered relatively minor injuries in this recent train accident, another catastrophic Metrolink accident in Chatsworth on September 12, 2008 killed 25 and injured about 135 people, many critically. In that case, a Metrolink engineer crashed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train because he missed a red signal.
In the most recent train crash in Rialto, the eastbound Metrolink train was carrying 15 passengers and crew members. Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the train failed to stop at a red light about 150 feet from where it hit the rear cars of a Burlington National Santa Fe freight train. Investigators also said that the red signal appeared to have been working at the time of the collision. Officials are now investigating the train’s brakes and its operators as they try to pinpoint a cause.
NTSB officials are trying to rule out all other causes before placing responsibility on the Metrolink train operators. Barring mechanical problems with the train, there is no excuse for the engineers missing that red signal. It would be truly appalling if it turns out the engineers missed that red signal because they were distracted or not paying attention. In the September Metrolink crash, we were all shocked to find out that the train’s engineer was text messaging at the time of the catastrophic collision.
Metrolink has promised to install track technology that would prevent these crashes in the future. But in my opinion, Metrolink needs to take a close look at their operating policies and procedures, how they train their engineers and how they maintain their trains. Train operators owe their passengers the highest duty of care, which means they are responsible for the safe transportation of their passengers and anything less is unacceptable. While I’m relieved that the Rialto crash did not result in major injuries to Metrolink commuters, I sincerely hope Metrolink officials revisit these issues in order to prevent future tragedies.