Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 to ensure commuters greater protection aboard trains. At its core, the law requires Positive Train Control, or PTC technology, to be installed on most railroads across the United States. Initially, the deadline was 2015, but Congress has now extended it to December 2018.
The 2008 Chatsworth Metrolink train crash that killed 25 people and injured 135 spurred lawmakers to modernize railroads. The accident remains the deadliest railway collision in Metrolink’s history, and the worst in the United States in the last quarter century. Then U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California lead the push for greater safety in the days following the .
Eleven days after the Metrolink commuter crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in the San Fernando Valley, U-S Senator Barbara Boxer held a legislative briefing in Washington D-C.
“What are the interim steps?” she asked.
Senator Boxer pushed for new safety measures that could take effect immediately. Among those in the room were National Transportation Safety Board Member and Spokesperson Kitty Higgins, Metrolink chairman Ron Roberts, a Union Pacific executive, and Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“What are the interim steps?” asked Senator Feinstein. She was trying to get at more people on alert right there, in the front of the train, watching for these signals. “What’s wrong with that?” she asked.
Metrolink Chairman Ron Roberts replied that Metrolink executives started discussing that option in the days following the crash.
“We’ve already thought about that,” Roberts replied, “…putting another engineer in each cab on the lines that are single track and share with freight railways.’
Three days after the crash, Metrolink Board members approved an extra engineer as a second set of eyes in the control cab. Metrolink posted a press release on its website with that and other announcements in what it called a ‘sweeping set of multi-point motions.’
Experienced railroad litigation attorney Edward Pfiester Jr. spoke to a handful of people at a recent meeting in Simi Valley about Metrolink, the litigations pending from victims’ families.
“Metrolink has killed more people per miles run,” says Pfiester, ‘than any other railroad, commuter railroad in the states, in recent history.”
Pfiester Jr.’s law firm, Hildebrand, McLeod & Nelson, hired a public relationship company after the tragic Chatsworth crash on September 12th. The firm has represented dozens of victims, and their families, in both Metrolink’s recent train crashes: Placenta in 2002 and Glendale in 2005. Another partner at the firm, Victor Russo says Metrolink is notorious for putting its bottom line before safety.
“Because we’ve been hearing for years from engineers, conductors, people who maintain the tracks,” says Russo, “that they’re overworked. They’re spread too thin and they’re forced to cut corners.”
Cutting corners will likely not happen in the lawsuits connected to the Chatsworth crash. Lawyers expect litigation numbers to top $200-million dollars.
Two-time crash survivor Richard Myles didn’t talk about money when he was released from the hospital six days after the Chatsworth crash, just about his luck.
“Unlucky,” Myles says, “to be involved in two different crashes….”
Myles says he considers train travel safe overall, but that it’s too soon to know whether he’d ever feel safe enough again to climb aboard.
You can share memories, or leave comments for those killed in the 2008 Metrolink Chatsworth crash on the Los Angeles Time website.