Metrolink increases safety measures

LOS ANGELES Metrolink has been heavily criticized over its safety record ever since the tragic crash in Chatsworth.

Twenty-five people died and 135 were injured when the Metrolink train collided head-on with a freight train Sept. 12, 2008.

Thirteen months later, the commuter rail system has responded with a number of changes, including new cameras that have already been installed in the cabs of its locomotives.

A lengthy investigation of the accident that killed 25 people and injured 135 others revealed that the Metrolink engineer was texting just seconds before he ran a red signal light and slammed into an on-coming freight.

Texting or even using a cell phone while operating a train violates federal and Metrolink rules, but the investigation showed that engineers often ignore the regulation, but maybe they wouldn't if they knew they were being watched.

"If you knew that you had a second pair of eyes watching, would you be texting while driving a train with all of those people on it? The answer, I think, is no," says Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Monday, at Metrolink's downtown maintenance yard, the mayor and members of the Commuter Railroad's board announced that inward and outward facing video cameras have now been installed in all Metrolink locomotives. Also, all new cab-forward cars that begin arriving next month will be equipped with the video camera system.

"Our goal is to create redundancy for increased safety," says Richard Katz, a Metrolink board member.

"We have humans backing up machines, we have machines backing up people, and that's how we get as safe a system as possible," Katz explains.

Metrolink says the video of engineers' actions will be reviewed on a random, daily basis.

"Engineers should not be texting or suing cell phones. They should not be sleeping, and engineers should not have unauthorized persons in the cab," says the mayor.

In addition to the cameras, Metrolink says it's adding a second engineer to trains on routes it considers the most challenging and has installed automatic train stopping equipment at 43 speed sensitive locations.

Metrolink is also accelerating the installation of positive train control equipment, which can sense when collisions are eminent and halt the train.

Commuters who use Metrolink say they're happy to see the rail line is serious about safety.

"I think obviously anything that they are going to do to increase the safety is a positive thing," says Steve Harris, a Metrolink passenger.

In installing these cameras in the locomotives, Metrolink is actually playing catch-up. Though it's the only commuter railroad in the U.S. to have cameras facing into the cab, the Metropolitan Transit Authority installed them in its cabs of its trolleys and subways a long time ago.

Apparently, it took the tragedy in Chatsworth for Metrolink to realize it had a problem.

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