Metrolink Board OKs More Than $10M in Safety Upgrades

LOS ANGELES -- Facing potentially major claims over a fatal commuter train crash in Chatsworth, the Metrolink board Friday approved millions of dollars in safety improvements and discussed a lawsuit that the agency filed against the company that provides its engineers.

The safety upgrades, which will cost $10.6 million to $12.6 million, include implementing Automatic Train Stop technology, adding more engineers and conductors, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with light-emitting diodes on signals.

On Thursday, the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors allocated $5 million to Metrolink to cover Los Angeles County's portion of the expenses for the safety improvements.

The Los Angeles County MTA is a major source of funding for Metrolink, which operates in five counties in Southern California.

The Automatic Train Stop technology will be implemented at 50 locations at a cost of $1.1 million for the next three to four years, until a more advanced Positive Train Control system can be put in place.

Automatic Train Stop technology, which has been around since the 1940s, uses receivers placed about 100 feet before each warning signal that a conductor must acknowledge within eight seconds, similar to turning off a home security alarm. If the conductor fails to do so, the train slows to a stop automatically.

Positive Train Control is a more advanced system that will use global positioning systems on locomotives and automatic control systems to override human errors.

For trains that won't have the ATS system, the board approved hiring more engineers and conductors to double-up staffing on trains.

To supplement that, inward and outward facing video cameras will be added to locomotives.

The board also approved a proposal to accelerate the switch of incandescent bulbs to higher-visibility LEDs in 650 signal lamps at a cost of $1 million, as well as the relocation or reconfiguration of five to 10 signals at a cost of $3 to $5 million.

Behind closed doors, Metrolink's board of directors also discussed a lawsuit that the agency filed against the company that provides its engineers. 

Metrolink officials have voiced strong concerns about evidence indicating the engineer of the Metrolink train that collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train Sept. 12, killing 25 people, was texting on a cellphone seconds before the crash, in violation of Metrolink policy.

The federal railroad administration issued an emergency order following the crash banning the use of personal electronic devices by rail workers operating trains and performing other key jobs.

The lawsuit, naming Connex Railroad LLC, a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation, became available late Thursday in Los Angeles federal court.

Metrolink attorney John H. Ernster of Pasadena-based Ernster Law Offices had no comment on the complaint.

Connex spokeswoman Erica Swerdlow said the company would not comment on pending litigation.

The legal action begins a process of seeking judicial guidance on who will bear responsibility for the accident.

Some observers told The Los Angeles Times that the collision -- the worst rail accident in California in 50 years -- could be the first test of a $200 million federally imposed cap on damages associated with train accidents. In addition to those killed, dozens were hospitalized and a total of 135 passengers and crew members were injured.  

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