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Rialto Metrolink versus Freight Train Collision Injures Five

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Five people were injured in a Metrolink versus freight train collision in Rialto on November 20, 2008 – the second such accident in less then three months. The 11/20/08 crash was far less serious than the catastrophic head-on collision in Chatsworth in September that killed 25 and injured hundreds. According to this Los Angeles Times news report, Thursday’s accident occurred at about 11:30 a.m. when an eastbound Metrolink train hit the end of a westbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train. The freight train was pulling onto a siding from a main track just west of the Rialto train station when the accident occurred.

Five passengers were sent to local hospitals with complaints of pain. Officials are still trying to figure out how this collision could have happened. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad officials say their engineer had been given the go-ahead either by a signal or a Metrolink dispatcher. The freight train was traveling from Barstow to Rialto. The Metrolink locomotive sideswiped the 96th car of the 102 cars on the freight train. In the Chatsworth crash, investigators determined that the engineer had missed the signal most likely because he was texting some young train enthusiasts, seconds before the head-on collision.

It is extremely fortunate that this accident was a “sideswipe” and not a head-on collision like the one in Chatsworth. It is critical at this point for Metrolink to very carefully examine what’s going wrong with their operation. In my opinion, this is no coincidence. Metrolink needs to implement high-tech mapping and braking systems to prevent such collisions. You’d think they would have got the process started after the Chatsworth crash. It is appalling that Metrolink has not installed these Positive Train Control (PTC) systems that have been available for many years. BNSF Railroad has installed these systems on many of its tracks. But both the Chatsworth track and this one in Rialto are owned by Metrolink.

I understand it can be expensive to have the PTC system installed on all Metrolink lines. However, I believe it should be installed at those locations where trains traveling in opposite directions can possibly be on the same track and on a collision course. Metrolink also needs to seriously rethink its training for employees, especially engineers and dispatchers who are placed in key positions and hold the lives of commuters in their hands. None of us imagined that Metrolink would allow what happened in Chatsworth to happen again. But this Rialto train accident proves that it can happen and will continue to happen until Metrolink takes some drastic steps to improve its operations.

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