Metrolink officials, in a rare move Saturday, admitted blame for the gruesome Chatsworth train accident that occurred on September 12th. Their train engineer’s failure to stop at a red light signal was the reason the Simi Valley-bound Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train, they said. Our blog’s source is this Los Angeles Times report.
This two train collision has already been classified as the worst Southern California train accident in more than 50 years, and has left 25 people dead and more than 135 injured – 40 of them critically. Metrolink’s fatality record is now one of the country’s worst.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials are saying something different then Metrolink officials. The NTSB are accident investigation pros. They know it’s too early to pinpoint the cause or assign blame. Federal officials say they are going to “reserve their judgment” until they complete the investigation. Local rail workers unions are also calling Metrolink’s quick assignment of blame “terribly premature.”
Although officials are being cautious about what they say, there is no question that the crux of the investigation and the most pressing question is how the Metrolink engineer could have missed the red signal. The engineer also died in the train crash. He was with Veolia Transportation and had previously worked with Amtrak for over 10 years.
NTSB investigators are also looking into a report about a group of teenage train enthusiasts who’d received a text message from the Metrolink engineer minutes before the collision. The two trains, which were involved in Friday’s head-on metrolink collision, routinely passed each other every day near Chatsworth.
It’s not surprising that the focus of the investigation is on the Metrolink engineer and why he missed/ignored the red light. Based on news reports, there may have been any number of reasons for that. If he were texting at the time or around that time, he may have been distracted. He could have been affected by the glare of the setting sun, fallen asleep, suffered a heart attack or a medical condition or he could have simply made a catastrophic error by overlooking that red light.
Metrolink has not yet said whether their own operating procedures for confirming the red light signal between the engineer and the conductor were followed. The engineer should’ve stopped at the red light, but he didn’t. I expect this is going to end up being one of the most costly rail transportation accidents in U.S. history, in terms of compensation paid out to the injured and the families of the fatally injured.
This Chatsworth metrolink train accident is very similar to an Orange County head-on collision that occurred April 23 2002 in Placentia. Two people were killed and more than 260 were injured in that train accident. A major issue in that crash could well become a much bigger one in this, which is: Why didn’t Metrolink install Positive Train Control (PTC), which is an automatic braking system?
PTC uses Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology to spot two trains on a collision course and automatically apply brakes on both trains to effectively prevent such a catastrophic crash. Such a braking system would also slow trains that go past a yellow signal and stop them before they go past a red signal. If Metrolink officials, who knew about the availability of this technology even before this fatal Orange County train accident, had installed the high-tech PTC system in their trains, this horrific crash may have been prevented.
Metrolink has breached its obligation to provide the “utmost duty of care” to its passengers by failing to install the PTC system or automatic braking system, when it has been proven to be reliable and has been available for several years. I find it reprehensible Metrolink chose not to invest in this technology which could have prevented this fatal Chatsworth train accident.
I am not suggesting that the PTC system needs to be functioning on all Metrolink lines. However, it should be in function at those places where trains traveling in opposite directions can possibly be on the same track at the same time, headed towards each other. It would have cost less to install the PTC system than it is going to cost Metrolink to settle the hundred plus claims for compensation that it is going to have to resolve.