“It would have alleviated it, if we had put detection equipment in the track.”
Richard Katz, Metrolink board member
Metrolink, Southern California’s commuter rail system, has a checkered history. In 2005, a Metrolink train smashed into an abandoned SUV in Glendale, causing a chain-reaction crash that left 11 people dead and 180 others injured. In 2008, a Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight in Chatsworth, claiming the lives of 25 people and injuring 125 others.
In the wake of these deadly crashes, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority shelled out more than $500 million to make safety improvements to over 500 miles of track.
The improvements included sealed grade crossings, train cars with crumple zones to minimize damage in accidents, onboard rail cameras, and Automatic Train Stop technology in nearly 50 speed-sensitive locations.
Spurred on by the passage of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Metrolink also promised to install a $210 million Positive Train Control (PTC) system designed to prevent crashes caused by human error or natural disaster. PTC has been installed on three Metrolink routes and will likely be implemented to all other routes by the spring.
In a high stakes gamble, the high tech crash avoidance system was not set up on the Ventura County Line passage where Tuesday’s crash took place, even though it is one of the deadliest in Ventura. Officials from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said they are awaiting the results of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation before they comment on whether or not PTC would have prevented the crash.
Richard Katz, a former assemblyman who sits on Metrolink’s board stopped short of saying the crash would have been prevented had PTC been installed, but he did say the crash would have been alleviated if the technology had been there.
Earlier this year, Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten pronounced Metrolink a “safety-first agency” while also dubbing it “the safest commuter rail system in the country.” But according to the Los Angeles Daily News, Metrolink incidents at highway-rail crossings have increased since 2010. Last year alone there were five deaths reported at 12 highway-rail crossings.