Feinstein Pushes for Train Safety Technology

LOS ANGELES -- Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation Tuesday requiring the installation of technology to prevent train crashes. She warned that without it there would be more disasters like Friday's deadly commuter collision in Los Angeles.

The California Democrat hopes to nudge Congress to pass her requirement for so-called positive train control before recessing at the end of next week.

The technology can engage the brakes if a train misses a signal or gets off-track. It's been installed on a fraction of U.S. rail tracks but was not in use when a Los Angeles commuter train failed to stop at a red warning light and collided with a Union Pacific freight train, killing 25 people and injuring 138.

Feinstein blamed "a resistance in the railroad community in America" to the price tag of installing the systems.

"The cost of any system doesn't come close to the cost of the lives that were lost this past Friday and will likely be lost in the future," she said.   "If we don't do it, it is going to happen again."

The House and Senate have already passed separate legislation to implement the technology but time is running out to reconcile the differing versions.

Feinstein said that her bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., incorporates the toughest elements of the bills already passed. It requires positive train control for high-risk areas by the end of 2012 and all areas by the end of 2014. It encompasses major freight and commuter rail and would be mandatory with penalties up to $100,000 for noncompliance. Feinstein said she was asking Senate leaders to include the measure in must-pass spending legislation before Congress recesses to campaign for the elections.
Failure to act in the wake of Friday's accident amounts to "negligence, and I'll even go as far to say I believe it's criminal negligence not to do so," she said.

The Association of American Railroads, the lobbying arm for the freight railroads, has said it does not oppose the legislation but has concerns that the technology has not been perfected. Feinstein also questioned the working conditions of the Metrolink engineer blamed for not heeding a red light signal. She said he worked 11-hour days five days a week in split shifts, a schedule she called "untenable."  And California's senior senator criticized the fact that most Metrolink trains in Southern California run on freight tracks, "with nothing but a couple of signals" to prevent disaster.

Also Tuesday, it was reported that the Metrolink engineer at the controls was a lifelong train enthusiast, as well as a loner with a misdemeanor criminal record. Robert Martin Sanchez, 46, who lived in La Crescenta with four miniature greyhounds, pleaded guilty to grand theft in connection with a 2002 arrest for stealing video game consoles from a store in San Bernardino County, according to published reports.

"I hate to use the word but he looked like a loner," Michele Thompson, who lives across the road from Sanchez's La Crescenta home, told the Los Angeles Daily News.

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