Train safety pushed year after crash

first_imgGLENDALE – Nearly a year after a horrific Metrolink crash killed 11 people and injured nearly 200, a state Assembly committee on rail safety called Wednesday for a ban on the controversial “push-pull” running of trains – where the engine pushes trains from behind – which critics decry as unsafe. Flanked by families of victims from the Jan. 26 crash, Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Glendale, released the committee’s report and proposed a three-year phase-out of push-pull operations on Metrolink and three other commuter lines in California. Frommer said if the rail operators don’t voluntarily comply, he’ll seek legislation this session to impose the ban. “This is going to be a fight,” said Frommer, the safety committee chairman, after a morning press conference near the crash site in his Glendale district. But Metrolink attacked the proposals as unrealistic, while officials of other commuter lines said they cannot afford a $3 million locomotive for each train or to purchase land for a turn-around yard with the high cost of California real estate. Plus, they maintain, evidence shows push operations are safe. “We think he’s wrong. We don’t think he has the science behind him,” said Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell. “These alternatives they mention are not rational alternatives. They’re not realistic financially. They’re not realistic physically. And they won’t deliver what’s promised.” Metrolink instead is focused on new technology to reduce the serious impact of crashes, and will be the first in the nation to outfit its cab cars – the lead car when the train is in the push mode – under a massive procurement being carried out to replace its 40 cab cars this year. “We’ve operated in the push-pull mode from our inception,” Tyrrell said. “We have faith in it, believe in it, ride it ourselves.” Along with Metrolink, the proposed ban would apply to Caltrain, the Coaster train in northern San Diego County and the Altamont Commuter Express. “The expense is egregious,” said Jonah Weinberg, a spokesman for Caltrain, which operates between San Jose and San Francisco. “The millions of millions of dollars that would be spent on putting in two engines would not allow us to pursue these other things like grade separation, fencing off the corridors.” The report from the Assembly Special Committee on Rail Safety also called for additional safety measures, such as better crossing gates, a track warning system to alert conductors of problems on the tracks and immediate action to prevent passengers from sitting in the cab cars. Metrolink and other lines have roped off some rows of the cab cars already. Frommer also said he would try to get $500 million for grade-separation projects statewide into Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vast infrastructure proposal that is being considered this year in Sacramento. He blasted the state for funding grade separations at the same low level for the past 30 years, saying that at that rate it would take 2,500 years to grade-separate the most dangerous crossings. But the prohibition against push-pull was the committee’s key finding, and came after months of investigation and a public hearing after last year’s crash. Banning push-pull could face legal obstacles because the Federal Railroad Administration historically has authority over train operations nationwide, and it believes push-pull is safe. However, Frommer was confident that the state has the authority to prohibit the operation, and the report cites several legal cases in which local powers have been able to pre-empt the federal regulation. A spokesman for the FRA said Wednesday that commuter lines are welcome to do away with push-pull, but that the federal government is not stepping in to mandate it. “The data that has been accumulated does not suggest the need for us, the federal government, to take action in that regard,” said FRA spokesman Steve Kulm. “It has been safe, and it is safe, and we’re working to make it safer.” But family members of those lost in the crash say the authorities have not done enough to protect passengers, and they want an end to what they see as a dangerous push-pull operation. Lien Wiley, whose husband, Don, was on the southbound train headed to work that morning, hopes the practice will be changed. She said the past year has been difficult as she still can’t believe her husband of 12 years is gone. “I still cry every day,” said the Simi Valley resident. “Every day, every afternoon, I still listen to the garage door and wait for him to come home. I still can’t believe he’s never coming home again. “The government fell asleep at the wheel. The government’s supposed to regulate them and monitor them,” she said. “I will never forgive myself if I don’t do something.” Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card “There is no doubt in my mind that the push-pull configuration is a killer and one that needs to be outlawed in California,” he said. Injured passengers have filed lawsuits claiming Metrolink was negligent for operating the push-pull system, in which a locomotive pushes lighter cars ahead of it one way and pulls them on the return. “There are allegations that pushed trains are more likely to derail because the lighter passenger cabs in the front can be pushed off the tracks more easily,” the state report said. The practice has come under increased scrutiny since last year’s crash, the worst in Metrolink’s history, when a train in the push mode crashed into a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks, then collided with an oncoming train and a parked train. A despondent handyman who parked his SUV on the tracks has pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Frommer said it’s up to train operators to determine an alternative mode, but the report suggested using a second locomotive, a turn-around yard at the end of each line or a so-called “cabbage car” – a locomotive filled with heavy materials such as lead or ballast to make it less susceptible to derailing or crushing. last_img

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