Management & Operations

Service resumes amid questions after deadly L.A. commuter rail crash

Posted on February 1, 2005

Metrolink commuter rail service resumed on Jan. 31, five days after a train hit a parked SUV and derailed in Glendale, Calif., causing one of the deadliest commuter rail accidents in U.S. history. Service was suspended while repairs were made to damaged tracks in the aftermath of an accident that killed 11 people and injured more than 180 others. The collision was triggered by a man who parked his SUV at a railway crossing in an apparent suicide attempt. As the train approached, the suspect reportedly had second thoughts and abandoned the car, escaping to witness the crash from nearby. The train derailed and hit an oncoming Metrolink train as well as a parked Union Pacific train. The SUV driver was arrested at the scene and has been charged with 11 counts of murder under “special circumstances,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite the alleged negligence of the SUV driver, the Metrolink tragedy has generated debate about whether the accident could have been avoided, or the damage reduced. With crash survivors describing a hectic scene inside the trains, some assert that passenger railcars should have more interior safety features, such as seat belts and padded walls. According to Metrolink officials, making such changes would be expensive and not indisputably beneficial, particularly in crashes caused by deliberate acts. “Crashes happen from time to time, and suicides in particular are something that are very difficult to design around,” Metrolink spokesman Steve Lantz said. Probably the biggest point of contention centers on Metrolink’s “push-pull” system, which consists of trains being pushed by a locomotive in one direction and pulled in the other. Critics argue that if all trains are pulled by an engine in front, not only would the reaction time of the train be faster in frontal collisions, but this configuration would also spare passenger cars from taking the brunt of impact. Not everyone agrees. “There is no conclusive evidence that a different configuration of passenger cars and locomotives or some kind of passenger restraint system will result in fewer passenger injuries and fatalities,” said Metrolink CEO David Solow during a news conference. The safety questions will continue, but for now, any major changes will have to wait. Metrolink is waiting for National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration investigators to finish their investigations before making any changes to its operations, Lantz said.

Deadliest crashes involving passenger trains since 1990

Dec. 12, 2001: Amtrak-minivan collision in Bakersfield, Calif. Seven people die.
March 15, 1999: Amtrak-truck collision in Bourbonnais, Ill. Eleven fatalities.
Feb. 16, 1996: Maryland Rail Commuter train hits Amtrak train in Silver Spring, Md. Eleven fatalities.
Sept. 22, 1993: Amtrak train derails on bridge near Mobile, Ala. Forty-seven people are killed.
July 31, 1991: Freight train-Amtrak collision in Camden, S.C. Eight people die.
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