Crash Victims Expose Metrolink's Failed Promises

Share This Page

June 27, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Crash Victims Expose Metrolink’s Failed Promises

A dozen Metrolink victims raise new issues in filing death and injury claims in the wake of Metrolink’s statement to a local radio show that the locomotive in front is no magic bullet but only a fantasy thought up by litigators in search of deeper pockets.

Los Angeles, June 27, 2005 - -

The survivors of three passengers killed in the January 26 Metrolink crash and nine injured passengers filed claims for damages today against Southern California Regional Rail Authority (S.C.R.R.A.), d/b/a MetroLink, alleging it failed to keep its public promises and commitments to do everything in its power to provide superior and safe operation because continued to operate trains and cab car push-pull mode and without front end protection. Notwithstanding its knowledge of its yearly highway rail crossing incidents, it failed to warn its passengers of the dangers of riding in the cab car, and continued to use the cab car in the push-pull operation notwithstanding such superior knowledge and the risk of injury and death to its passengers. (Filing a government claim and it’s usual subsequent denial is necessary in order to file a civil complaint/lawsuit against Metrolink.)

Metrolink made a quality of service pledge to its customers and a commitment to excellence promise that Metrolink [said/stated/asserted/promised] its riders had a right to expect: That Metrolink was Southern California’s premier regional rail system that would do everything in its power to provide high quality service. According to Metrolink this commitment to excellence was a promise its riders had a right to expect. Metrolink further pledged that it was committed to and characterized by the attributes of technically superior and safe operations, customer focus, and dependable, high quality service, among other attributes. Metrolink was committed to making sure that everyone interacting with its trains did so safely. (See “Details About the Allegations,” below at page 5 below about Metrolink’s public commitments.)

On June 1, 2005 Metrolink gave the following statement to Larry Mantel’s “Air Talk” on KPCC FM 89.3:

"Recent FRA studies do not support the theory that locomotive first is a statistically safer mode of travel. The locomotive in front is no magic bullet. This is basically a fantasy thought up by litigators in search of deeper pockets."

The concerns over push vs. pull is not a fantasy thought up by litigators as Metrolink asserts, but in fact has been under scrutiny by federal railroad officials and others for almost a decade:

1. FRA Emergency Order 20 (Emergency Order Requiring Enhanced Operating Rules and Plans for Ensuring the Safety of Passengers Occupying the Leading Car of a Train) was issued in 1996 after two fatal crashes involving push-pull operations. This order was published as a result of an FRA investigation into the New Jersey Transit accident, Secaucus, N.J. on 2/9/96 and the MARC accident, Silver Spring, Md. on 2/16/96. Both of these accidents involved casualties in so-called "push/pull" operations with the consist [the group of rail vehicles which make up a train] being pushed by a locomotive at the rear. That report noted that “cab cars are lighter” and “occupants of cab cars may incur a significantly higher risk of serious injury when compared with occupants of a locomotive-hauled [train]. A safety plan for safer operations involving push-pull operations was to have been created. To our knowledge this was never done.

2. The 40 page FRA study in 1996, “Locomotive Crashworthiness Research - Volume 5: Cab Car Crashworthiness Report” (DOT/FRA/ORD-95/08.5) concluded among other things that “Substantial crush appears likely at closing speeds above approximately 35 mph for the situation in which a cab car, just satisfying the federal requirements, is in a push-pull configuration and collides with a locomotive” and “Generally, the results indicate that for commuter train configurations of the push-pull type in which a cab car could sustain an accident at a closing speed in excess of 35 mph without experiencing substantial crush to both the control cab and the passenger compartment. The result of such crush would likely cause severe injury or fatality of the vehicle occupants.”

3. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has been working with the Volpe National Transportation System Center (Volpe Center) to conduct research into rail equipment crashworthiness. Volpe crash test videos are available on their website as well as the following statement:

“Of particular concern are collisions involving cab cars as one or both of the impacting cars. In comparison to locomotives, cab cars are exposed to more risk in collisions. The presence of passengers, the cab car being of lighter weight and weaker strength than the locomotive, and the cab operator being placed at the extreme end of the car, with essentially no structure ahead of him or her, render the car vulnerable. Cab cars are used in all commuter operations in the U.S., either in push-pull operation with a locomotive pushing or in multiple-unit operation, where most of the cars are self-powered.

“Some accidents happen under such circumstances - for instance at such great speed -- that it is a practical impossibility to survive such collisions. Very high speed collisions require the use of buffer cars or other measures which may not be considered practical.”

4. Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff are both initiating legislation and hearings concerning push-pull operations as a result of the recent Metrolink crash.

It is no fantasy that since the January crash the FRA is taking a fresh look at the push-pull matter and that the NTSB is investigating the crash-worthiness of the Metrolink trains.

“Metrolink's defense of push-pull ignores the laws of physics and that railroad crashes and derails happen every year,” attorney Clark Aristei said. “No court can overrule the laws of physics that cause injury and death in push-pull operations. My clients wish to change that for everyone's benefit, including Metrolink's. If push-pull is so safe, why don't they show it in their published photos? Metrolink consistently shows the locomotive in front.”

“The gross negligence of Metrolink, our public administrators/bureaucrats, has caused tremendous pain and suffering to many hundreds of people. This must stop! Thousands more will be lost if they don’t make drastic improvements. These improvements will take time and money, however, if one life is saved, it is worth all the money,” stated Mrs. Lien Wiley, whose husband, Donald Wiley, was the 11th victim found who died from the collision. “The longest journey begins with the first step. We must begin saving lives right now.”

Baum Hedlund has handled many of the major train crash accidents that have occurred throughout the United States over the past 20 years:

Amtrak Train Derailment, Flora, Mississippi, 2004
Amtrak Train Derailment, near Corning, Iowa, 2001
Amtrak/MARC Collision, Silver Spring, Maryland, 1996
Amtrak Train Derailment, Near Batavia, New York, 1994
Amtrak Train Derailment, Saraland, Alabama, 1993
Amtrak Train, Camden, South Carolina, 1991
Amtrak/Conrail Train, Chase, Maryland, 1987

They represented six families in the 1996 MARC train crash in Silver Spring, MD spurring Emergency Order 20, that also involved a locomotive engine pushing the passenger cars ahead of it.

FACT SHEET

DETAILS ABOUT THE ALLEGATIONS:

Metrolink breached the public promises, pledges, and commitments it made to its passengers.

Metrolink stated and published through its website www.metrolinktrains.com:

Metrolink is a premier regional rail system including commuter and other passenger services, linking communities to employment and activity centers. Metrolink provides reliable trans-portation [sic] and mobility for the region, leading toward more liveable communities.

Quality of Service Pledge

Our promise to provide high quality, dependable, on-time service

Metrolink defined its “Quality Service Pledge” as follows:

Metrolink is pleased to offer this Quality Service Pledge. As Southern California’s premier regional rail system, we do everything in our power to provide high quality, dependable, on-time service. This commitment to excellence is a promise our riders have a right to expect.

. . .

Metrolink is committed to and characterized by the following attributes:

Technically superior and safe operations.
Customer focus and accessibility.

. . .

Rail Safety

. . .

Important Safety Guidelines for Passengers, Motorists, and Pedestrians

. . .

At Metrolink, we’re committed to making sure that everyone who interacts with our train does so safely.

Metrolink knew from passenger responses to questionnaires that their passengers felt personal safety on board the train was important.

Metrolink breached its warranties to its passengers.

In truth and in fact, Metrolink is not the premier rail system. The FRA rated it 13th out of 34 rail carriers in 2003.

Further, Metrolink failed to do everything in its power to provide superior and safe operation in that it continued to operate trains and cab car push-pull mode and without front end protection, notwithstanding its knowledge of the annual occurrence of highway rail crossing accidents, it failed to warn its passengers of the dangers of riding in the cab car, and continued to use the cab car in the push-pull operation notwithstanding such superior knowledge and the risk of injury to its passengers.

FAILURE TO FULFILL DUTIES OF A COMMON CARRIER.

Metrolink negligently breached its duties as a common carrier in that, among other things, it:

  1. Failed to restrict the use of the cab cars in the lead position or head end of a moving train notwithstanding its knowledge of the dangers it posed to passenger.
  2. Operated the train in a mode so as to expose its passengers to danger.
  3. Failed to restrict use of passenger seating in the cab car.
  4. Failed to warn its passengers of the danger of riding in the cab car.
  5. Failed to upgrade the crash-worthiness of the interior of the cars.
  6. Failed to upgrade the structural integrity of the cars.

DANGEROUS CONDITION OF PROPERTY

Metrolink’s conduct also created a dangerous condition of property involving the train, tracks and crossings, which played a role in this incident.

MORE RE FRA EMERGENCY ORDER 20

Although definitive conclusions have not been reached, preliminary indications are that both the Secaucus and Silver Spring accidents could have been prevented had wayside signal indications been followed, and the death tolls might have been reduced significantly had occupied cab cars not been the lead cars.

There is no evidence that push/pull or EMU operations are in any way over represented in passenger train accidents. All rail passenger operations, like other forms of transportation, involve some risk of injury due to collision with other vehicles or fixed structures. In certain accident scenarios (e.g., where the passenger consist in question is impacted from the rear), push-pull operations with the cab car forward actually offer greater protection. However, in collisions involving the front of the passenger train, cab car forward and MU operations do present an increased risk of severe personal injury or death when compared with locomotive-hauled service. This risk is of particular concern where operations are conducted at relatively higher speeds, where there is a mix of various types of trains, and where there are numerous highway-rail crossings over which large motor vehicles are operated.

As the accidents of past two weeks illustrate, this potential for accidents of greater severity warrants a review of measures taken to prevent such accidents. Since most train collisions on the railroad result from human factors, the most effective preventive measure is a highly effective train control system. Cab signal systems serve an important safety purpose because they provide a constant display of the governing signal indication. This provides a corrective measure should an engineer fail to note, forget, or misread a restrictive wayside signal indication. Even greater security is provided by a train control system capable of intervening should the engineer fail to observe signals and operating rules for whatever reason (e.g., lack of alertness due to fatigue, sudden incapacitation, loss of situational awareness due to unusual events). Such systems are referred to as automatic train control or automatic train stop systems. New technologies currently under development and demonstration that can prevent collisions and overspeed derailments are known as "positive train separation" (PTS), Positive Train Control (PTC), or advanced train control (ATCS) systems.

Interim Safety Plans

Passenger occupancy of cab/MU cars in lead . Each interim safety plan must include a review of the use of leading cab cars and MU cars for transportation of passengers.

Highway-rail crossings - Cab-forward and MU operations pose a somewhat heightened risk of severe injury for passengers should an accident occur, in comparison to locomotive-hauled passenger coaches. Operators should give consideration to closer interface with private crossing holders that use the crossings for truck access, give greater attention to liaison with law enforcement authorities, and explore other means that may reduce risk at both public and private crossings. Accelerated application of locomotive alerting lights (already authorized by regulation and required by statute) may offer another opportunity for risk reduction. This order requires that each railroad's interim safety plan address these grade crossing issues in the context of cab-forward and MU operations. FRA is very concerned about the safety of such operations in absence of a plan to address grade crossing hazards.

Of greatest concern are push-pull and MU operations lacking the protection provided by cab signal, automatic train stop, or automatic train control systems. I find that the unsafe conditions discussed above create an emergency situation involving a hazard of death or injury to persons. Accordingly, pursuant to the authority of 49 U.S.C. 20104, delegated to me by the Secretary of Transportation (49 CFR 1.49), it is hereby ordered that each commuter and intercity passenger railroad, and any other entity (e.g., freight railroads over whose lines affected passenger operations are conducted) whose actions are necessary to effectuate the directives in this order, take the following actions:

(4) Interim system safety plans.
Each authority operating or contracting for the operation of push-pull, EMU or DMU service (including Amtrak) shall, not later than 45 days from this order, submit to FRA an interim system safety plan for the purpose of enhancing the safety of such operations. In developing such plans, the authority shall provide opportunity for the riding public and designated representatives of railroad employees to comment on proposed actions that may affect the quality of service, including passenger safety.

The plan shall address the following hazards associated with passenger occupancy of lead units:

  • Train-to-train collisions.
  • Derailments giving rise to the hazard of impact with fixed structures.
  • Collisions with heavy vehicles at highway-rail crossings.