Train Accident Interviews

KCAL 9 Interviews Attorney Paul Hedlund a Day After the Deadly Glendale Metrolink Derailment

We know what happened, and tonight, investigators are trying to figure out how it happened and if it could have been avoided. Joel Connable has more on train safety – he’s live in Burbank.

We broke this story last night. The story of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Emergency Order released some 15 years ago, saying that the federal government was very concerned about trains being pushed by engines. The question tonight – Is Metrolink going to change the way they do business after yesterday’s deadly crash? . . . [This passenger] is concerned about what is often called the “coffin car” on the train — the passenger car that often becomes the front of the train, being pushed from the rear.

They’re running their train backwards — the locomotive is pushing. That system is inherently much more unstable than if it were pulling.

Attorney Paul Hedlund has worked on cases involving train accidents for [more than] 18 years and the Federal Railroad Administration seems to agree with what he has to say. We uncovered this Emergency Order from 1996 where safety regulators warn that the cab car, or the first car of the train, is lighter, and that those sitting in the first car of the train are at a significantly higher risk of injury or death . . . But in the last five years, Metrolink has had four crashes involving trains and vehicles, where the train derailed while an engine was pushing the passenger cars from the rear.

I can virtually guarantee you that if this engine were in the front, there would be no fatalities and almost no injuries.

A very strong statement. We’ve also learned from the NTSB that their investigators, for years, have also said that pushing of trains is dangerous and they want it discontinued as well.

Judge Refuses to Throw Out Metrolink Crash Victims’ Suits

The families of 11 commuters killed in the 2005 Metrolink train crash — and more than 100 other people who were injured — can move forward with their lawsuit against Metrolink and the MTA, a Superior Court judge ruled on Thursday.

In a suit filed in January, the victims and family members claimed Metrolink and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the right-of-way, was negligent for operating a “push-pull” system.

Under a push-pull system, the locomotive pushes lighter cars ahead of it traveling to one destination and then pulls them on its return.

Critics say when the train is pushing, passengers in the front cars are endangered because they are not protected by the massive engine during collisions.

Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias rejected Metrolink’s request to throw the case out. The agency had argued that the Federal Railroad Administration oversees rail operations and since the push-pull system was authorized by the administration, Metrolink was in compliance with federal law and could not be sued.

The victims’ attorneys call it a partial victory.

“The MTA and Metrolink cannot derail these cases by hiding behind federal law,” said Clark Aristei, an attorney representing more than a dozen victims.

Transportation Secretary Sees ‘Landmark’ in Passenger Rail Safety

GLENDALE, Calif. – At the site of a commuter train disaster that killed 11 people last year, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on Thursday announced that a government test showed good results from combining new rail car technologies to help passengers survive wrecks.

Mineta said the new safety measures tested earlier in the day in Colorado would help passengers survive a 36-mph crash — more than double the current standard of 15 mph.  . . .

Mineta spoke near a track where 11 people were killed and more than 180 others were injured when a Metrolink train struck an SUV left on the tracks, jackknifed and struck another Metrolink train. The train that hit the SUV was being pushed by a locomotive and operated from a cab car at the front.

But he likened the new technologies to having airbags in an automobile.

Some critics have contended the real safety issue is the use of locomotives to push passenger cars instead of pulling them.  . . .

Paul Hedlund, an attorney for the plaintiffs and a former mechanical engineer, said the new safety devices would have only a limited effect in a crash.

“They protect the cars to some degree, the people at the ends, but you know, things can come through the sides and the people are thrown around no matter what. There are no seat belts in there,” he said.

Daily News of Los Angeles: A Time to Mourn Grieving Families, Survivors Gather Thursday to Remember Victims and Honor Rescuers

[Ceremony organized and provided by Baum Hedlund]

The Simi Valley woman was among dozens of grieving family members, survivors and police and fire officials who came together Thursday. The ceremony was held just yards away from where two Metrolink trains derailed a year ago in a chain-reaction crash allegedly caused by a man who parked his sport utility vehicle on the tracks.

Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti called on the audience to continue supporting the victims’ families in the years ahead. Near the end of the ceremony, relatives of the victims released 11 doves from a box. The birds flew over the tracks and off toward the horizon.

Several Costco workers were called onto the stage for recognition. In the pre-dawn darkness before the crash, the workers ran to the wreckage, pulled out survivors and used fire extinguishers to control the flames until firefighters arrived.

One of those survivors was John Phipps.

“When I awoke, it was eerily silent. I was trapped, alone and bleeding,” said Phipps, 45, who on the morning of the crash used his own blood to scrawl a brief note on a seat: “I (heart) my kids … I (heart) Leslie.”

“I made my peace with God. I left a goodbye message for Leslie and my kids. And I cried. Because while I was feeling sorry for myself – asking, Why me, Lord? – I realized that whatever had happened that had left our train looking the way it did from the inside, there had to have been people who were not as lucky as I was. There were 11.”

Dozen More Lawsuits Filed Against Metrolink Over January Crash

Another dozen lawsuits were filed Thursday against Metrolink over the January commuter train derailment that killed 11 people and injured more than 180 after a man apparently abandoned his vehicle on railroad tracks in an aborted suicide attempt.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of nine passengers injured in the Jan. 26 crash and on behalf of the survivors of three passengers who were killed. The lawsuits claim the commuter rail agency was negligent for using the push-pull configuration, where cab cars are sometimes pushed by a rear engine, said plaintiffs’ attorney J. Clark Aristei .

Juan Manuel Alvarez, 26, who allegedly parked his Jeep Cherokee on the tracks, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and arson. Prosecutors decided in August that they would seek the death penalty against him.

The civil lawsuits do not focus on Alvarez. They claim that Metrolink leaves its passengers and crews vulnerable in the front cab cars when they are being pushed from the rear.

“Every year Metrolink can count on a couple derailments at grade-crossings,” Aristei said. “Do we do nothing or do we give passengers the benefit of improved safety and stop the pushing of trains?”  . . .

At least 15 other lawsuits have been filed in connection with the crash and they will be consolidated, Aristei said.

More Injury Claims Filed in Glendale Commuter Train Crash

A dozen victims and families of those killed in a commuter train derailment filed wrongful death and injury claims Monday against Metrolink, alleging the regional rail agency failed promises to provide top quality service.

The claims filed in Superior Court are among about 80 against Metrolink since the Jan. 26 crash, in which a man parked his jeep on train tracks in Glendale, said [the agency’s] spokeswoman. Two hundred people were injured and 11 were killed in the crash.  . . .

The civil claims center on Metrolink’s use of the push-pull configuration, where cab cars are sometimes pushed by a rear engine. Previous reports by the Federal Railroad Administration showed such systems put riders at higher risk than those in which locomotives hauled the rest of the cars, according to the suit.

Metrolink, which represents itself as a “premier regional rail system” should have known about the dangers of this configuration and warned passengers, said J. Clark Aristei, who represents the claimants.

[Spokeswoman Tyrell] said Metrolink was waiting for the final draft of the FRA’s latest report on the push-pull configuration.

“Statistically, there’s not a finding that a train in push configuration derails any more often than a train in a pull configuration,” she said.

Aristei said the issue was injury risk.

“When you have a light object pushed by the heavier object, the front cars are going to be crushed,” he said. “It’s a question of physics.”

Aristei declined to give a damage estimate and said it would be up to the court to decide whether to merge the separate claims.

Rail Safety Findings Are Disputed

A survivor and relatives of victims of the January Metrolink crash near Glendale question a federal study about push-pull methods.

The group disputed the findings of a recent federal study showing only a slight difference in safety between pushing and pulling trains with engines.  . . .[Assemblyman] Frommer said he formed the committee to investigate the January crash, push-pull operations, the shortage of government funds for railroad crossing improvements and the safety of rail operations statewide.

“California has one of the nation’s worst records for rail safety,” Frommer said, adding that the January crash “created new questions about push-pull modes of operation.”

In push mode, a train’s engine is behind the last passenger car and is controlled from a cab car, a passenger coach at the front with an engineer’s station. The cab car’s weight is less than half that of a locomotive. The practice, common in commuter trains, has come under intense scrutiny since the January crash.  . . .

“Pulling trains with locomotives is not a magic bullet,” testified Paul J. Hedlund, a mechanical engineer and attorney who is representing Siebers, Wiley and Toby. “But it is hard to imagine that there would have been any deaths and injuries on Jan. 26 had the train been pulled.”

Metrolink has had three other major crashes involving cab cars, resulting in four deaths and 150 injuries. In contrast, Metrolink has had two major crashes of trains pulled by locomotives; 25 people were hurt and no one was killed.

At the hearing, Wiley, Davis, Toby and Siebers asked the committee for such safety improvements as better grade crossings, sensors to detect obstacles on the track and collision-warning devices on trains.

‘Push’ Doesn’t Satisfy Reps

Among the heaps of statistical and anecdotal data presented at the hearing by officials, two crash test films were played by attorney Paul Hedlund. In one film that showed a locomotive colliding with a cab car, the locomotive car tears through cab car, tossing it up in the air and off the tracks. For [Assemblyman] Frommer, at least, the film provided the most compelling evidence that lawmakers need to continue challenging rail officials’ assertions that trains that are pulled are just as likely to derail as trains that are pushed, a conclusion of a Federal Rail Administration report released earlier this month.

“That video is pretty convincing that these cab cars are pretty dangerous,” Frommer said. “I am unconvinced that pushing trains is safe.” — Paul Hedlund

. . . “Some clients want nothing more than to have their day in court. We find psychologically, people get some relief by the process of seeing someone held accountable for a tragedy. There is a therapeutic process in it for them,” . . . said Mr. Hedlund, who has represented clients in dozens of train, airplane, boat and bus crashes.

Investigators End Onsite Investigation of Fatal Amtrak Derailment

Flora, Miss. (AP) – The nine battered Amtrak cars that tumbled down an embankment near a Big Black River marshes 25 miles north of Jackson are back on the tracks and headed toward an undisclosed location for further inspection. . . .

Paul Hedlund, a mechanical engineer and attorney, has represented plaintiffs in lawsuits involving six Amtrak crashes since 1987.

“High wheels have ultrasound equipment which tests for steel fractures in rail lines but they can’t detect loose spikes,” Hedlund said. “Vibration is the single biggest problem for steel rails because oscillation loosens spikes that hold the rails. It only takes an inch of misalignment to derail a train.” . . .

“They come out suddenly and all at once when they’re loosened enough,” Hedlund said. “If Amtrak employees really felt bumpiness in the train car on previous rides, then the track bed needed to be smoothed to prevent vibration.”

Experts See Possibility for Big Settlements

“This is the time for putting your life back together . . .” said Paul Hedlund, a partner with a prominent Los Angeles law firm that specializes in cases involving mass disasters. Since the crash that claimed at least 44 lives, Hedlund and his partners have been interviewed by reporters across the country.

U.S. Crossings Deadly Despite Precautions

A Los Angeles attorney whose law firm represented passengers hurt or killed in five Amtrak accidents since 1987 says he considers most Amtrak accidents “the fault of the track controls.”

“The question there is going to be — and this happens quite a bit, trucks will stall on crossings — is there some type of device that track owners can install to signal a high-speed train of an obstacle in its path,” said Paul Hedlund, partner in the L.A. law firm of Baum Hedlund.

Similar questions arose when Hedlund’s firm represented 22 families after the 1993 crash of an Amtrak train that plunged into a bayou near Mobile, Ala., killing 42 passengers and five crew members.

Companies in Train Crash May Pay Dearly

WASHINGTON — The companies involved in last week’s Amtrak crash near Mobile could end up paying as much as $200 million in claims to victims and their families, says a Los Angeles attorney whose firm specializes in disaster liability cases.

“Usually in airplane accidents, the rule of thumb is (airlines) set aside $200 million and do a special fund and obtain interest on it,” said Paul Hedlund, a partner with . . . Baum & Hedlund, which has offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited plunged off a collapsed bridge into a muddy bayou north of Mobile Sept. 22, killing 47 passengers and crew members. The wreck was survived by 163 people.

“This is a situation in which the passengers paid good money for safe passage and the fare was commensurate with the duty common carriers owe to their passengers,” he said. “They didn’t get that. They were left in the middle of the night in a bayou. I see no way that they’re not entitled to something.” “To a large degree, this has altered everyone’s life that was on board the train,” he said. “It’s altered it for a very long time, if not for the rest of their lives.”

Hedlund said the litigation will be complex because of the number of companies involved. Federal investigators say a barge, operated by Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., struck the bridge just before the wreck. Hedlund said, however, he thinks CSX Transportation, which owns the track where the accident occurred, and Amtrak will bear ultimate responsibility.

“They’re jointly responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the (bridge) trestle,” he said. Hedlund said the company that built the trestle also may share some of the responsibility.

Security Hiked on Nation’s Rail Lines: Arizona Sabotage Spurs Safety Concerns

. . . Railway companies have been operating under a heightened state of alert since August when Transportation Secretary Frederico Pena ordered security precautions against potential acts of domestic terrorism. The Federal Railroad Administration recently sent out another domestic threat advisory after 10 suspects were convicted of conspiring to carry out a terrorist campaign of bombings and assassinations in New York.

Federal officials said that railway patrols will be stepped up and other security measures undertaken to assure passengers that it is safe to travel by train.

“Look at the response to airline terrorism that has occurred,” said Los Angeles attorney Paul Hedlund, who has studied rail safety issues while representing victims of a Sept. 22, 1993, Amtrak crash in Alabama, in which 47 people died. “Do we owe less of a duty to the people riding trains?”

The 1993 Amtrak crash didn’t result from sabotage – a rail bridge was knocked off alignment by a barge. But Hedlund said it showed that electronic sensors on rails can’t always warn of tampering.

And he said safeguards for rail travel don’t measure up to the intense security considerations seen at America’s airports.