Train travel is one of the oldest methods of travel in the United States. With rising oil prices and economic troubles looming, more people are relying on Caltrans and Metrolink commuter trains to get to work each day. Metrolink’s ridership has steadily increased by approximately 60% over the past 5 years. With all those trains in operation there are bound to be accidents, the most common being derailments and collisions. If you are involved in a train accident you should know your rights as well as the physical and psychological effects that such a tragic incident can have. It is imperative that you seek medical attention from well qualified physicians, and consult with train crash attorneys who will protect your rights.
CHATSWORTH METROLINK ACCIDENT
On September 12, 2008 in Chatsworth, California at 4:23 pm, Metrolink commuter train #111 collided head on with a Pacific Union freight train. The train crossed Chatsworth Street in the California San Fernando Valley shortly before the accident occurred, and has now been reported to be the worst Southern California train crash in almost 50 years. The crash occurred on a curve in the track just before a 500 foot tunnel separating Chatsworth from Simi Valley. So far 25 have been reported dead and as many as 135 injured, with 40 passengers listed in critical condition.
The exact cause of the collision has yet to be determined; however it had been determined that an engineer failed to follow a red light signal. Metrolink signals are controlled at the Metrolink dispatch center in Pomona where train positions are constantly monitored. Francisco Oaxaca, a Metrolink spokesperson said, “The engineer is responsible for checking signals and abiding by them. Typically when an engineer encounters a signal he radios the train’s conductor who is supposed to radio back confirming the color” Whether the engineer failed to follow the signal due to a medical condition, loss of consciousness or negligence has still yet to be determined. The engineer, who also died in the crash, had 10 years of experience working for other train companies such as Amtrak and Veolia Transportation, and he was certified specifically on the L.A. to Simi Valley route.
KCBA AM 740 reported that several teenage train enthusiasts said that they received a text message from the engineer shortly before the crash. The teens told KCBS-TV that they received the text message at 4:22, just one minute before the collision. The National Train Safety Board (NTSB) responded by saying that it was treating these reports with caution, because similar accusations were found to be inaccurate after a crash in Boston. However, a September 18 report from Occupation Health and Safety brings to light new information, “The Board received some of those [phone] records, which indicate that the engineer had sent and received text messages on the day of the accident, including some while he was on duty.” In a Sept. 17 release posted on its Web site, the NTSB indicated “The Safety Board will correlate those records with other investigative information to determine as precisely as possible the exact times of those messages in relation to the engineer’s operation of his train.”
Following the crash, Metrolink Chief Executive David R. Colow gave spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell permission to say that the engineer was most likely at fault, only to have Tyrrell come under fire from Metrolink board members who criticized her for speaking too soon. This prompted Tyrrell’s resignation shortly thereafter. Records now show that the September 12 Chatsworth crash boosted the fatality record of Metrolink to one of the highest of any railway in United States history. Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones affected by this tragedy. We will continue to seek to be a resource center for those affected by these events, and we will continually update as more information becomes available.
METROLINK BLUE LINE CRASHES INTO MTA BUS
On September 19, 2008, just one week after the Chatsworth train accident that killed 25 and injured at least 130, the Metrolink Blue line train crashed into a bus. The incident occurred at 6:00 am near the corner of Washington Blvd. and Griffith Avenue south of downtown Los Angeles. There were approximately 240 passengers on board the train headed for Long Beach when it hit an out of service bus. The impact knocked the front car off of the track, and at least 14 people, including the bus driver, were injured.
Marc Littman, a spokesperson for the MTA said, “We had an out of service bus turn in front of a train. We don’t know who had the right of way”. The driver of the bus was reported to be a mechanic to who ‘wanted to take it for a ride’. By 9 am the accident had been cleared, and commuters waiting at the Grand Avenue Station were transported by bus to the Washington station where they were able to resume their travel.
MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA SEEKS NEW TRAIN SAFETY MEASURES
Following the recent Chatsworth Metrolink train accident, Los Angeles County Officials began lobbying for new train safety measures. Currently the only stretch of track that Metrolink uses safeguards on is in southern Orange County, California. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe are working to institute new safety measures. The safety measures would consist of a second engineer on board the train, implementation of anti-collision technology, and an additional video camera to monitor train drivers. The mayor of Los Angeles and County Supervisors are rallying together to get these safety measures implemented as soon as possible. Metrolink currently runs about 145 trains per work day with many engineers working split shifts that amount to a 15 hour work day. Given the long work hours imposed upon Metrolink engineers, additional safeguards should be implemented to prevent fatigue and human error from causing another train collision.
LIABILITY CAP FOR MASS TRANSIT COMPANIES
In the aftermath following one of the worst train accidents in almost 50 years, a 1997 U.S. law that caps damage claims in railroad accidents at $200 million may now be tested. According to the 1997 law, the limit for “the aggregate allowable awards to call rail passengers including punitive damages from any single passenger rail accident”, is limited to no more that $200 million, and covers all rail carriers. The September 12, 2008 Metrolink crash is the worst railway accident to occur since the liability limit became a law. According to Bloomberg News, Glenn Scammel, a former Republican staff director for the House rail subcommittee who helped write the law said, “it’s hard for me to imagine given the number of deaths and injured we know about so far, that the cap would not come into play”. Scammel also stated that “the cap is most certainly going to be an issue.”
PHONE USE BY TRAIN ENGINEERS TEMPORARILY PROHIBITED
There is currently no federal regulation with respect to the use of cell phones by train operators, and until recently California law did not prohibit train operators from using their phones while operating a train. The Public Utilities Commission’s unanimous decision to pass a temporary order banning texting while operating came a day after investigators confirmed that the engineer of the Metrolink commuter train that collided with a Union Pacific freighter in the San Fernando Valley was text messaging while on duty. Under this new board approved order, violators could be fined up to $20,000 per incidence or have their operations shut down. According to the Associated Press, Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey said “Today’s action will protect the public. What we’re doing today is just a modest first step in a much larger effort to improve railroad safety.”