Metrolink adding second engineer to some
Published: September 29, 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times
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LOS ANGELES — Under new pressure to swiftly increase safety measures,
Metrolink will begin adding a second engineer to some of its commuter
trains in the first visible reform since a deadly crash in Chatsworth.
Chief Executive David R. Solow made the announcement Friday at a meeting
of Metrolink's Board of Directors.
He said the backup engineers will come from a pool of employees normally
used to replace primary engineers who are on vacation, sick or out on
training. Previously, when those employees were not running trains, they
performed administrative work or collected fares.
There are 10 to 15 relief engineers available each day, Solow said, but
the number riding shotgun would change, depending on how many already
were filling in for colleagues.
"It's just an interim measure until we can find something permanent," he
said in an interview. "We're going to use them as much as we can as
another set of eyes."
The backup engineers will be posted on routes near where they are
usually assigned, places such as San Bernardino, Moorpark, Oceanside and
"We may have to make some changes over time," Solow said.
The Metrolink chief said he was not sure if a train with two engineers
had taken to the rails under the new measure. A Metrolink spokesman who
said he would provide the information did not get back to The Times.
Metrolink's board also asked for an audit of how the agency operates
overall, "a critical analysis, what is working, what needs improvement,"
said Vice Chairman Keith Millhouse, who is also a Moorpark city
The move toward two engineers comes after a Metrolink train failed to
heed a warning light on Sept. 12 and crashed head-on into a Union
Pacific freight train in Chatsworth. Twenty-five people died and 135
were injured in the most deadly commuter rail accident in modern
Although the accident remains under investigation by the National
Transportation Safety Board, early indications are that human error
caused the crash.
Since the collision, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several
other members of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation
Authority -- Metrolink's largest local financial backer -- have pushed
the regional commuter railroad to add safety measures, such as automatic
braking devices and a video camera to monitor locomotive crews.
MTA members also had urged Metrolink to add a second engineer to its
cabs. Earlier this week, after Metrolink board Chairman Ron Roberts said
at a U.S. Senate hearing that the agency was considering the proposal,
officials at Metrolink headquarters in Los Angeles downplayed the
Asked Friday why he had decided on the extra engineer, Solow mentioned
the hearings held by California's Democratic U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein
and Barbara Boxer and the MTA.
"People think this may be a possible way to ensure that the engineers
are concentrating on what's going on," he said. "Whether it's the right
solution over time, we'll have to see. It's an action we can take
immediately with whatever qualified personnel we have."
In addition, Solow said, the commuter railroad has increased its
on-board testing of engineers. Already, 2,000 of these tests had been
taking place each month, Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said.
Solow also told the board that Metrolink officials would be meeting next
week with Wabtec Railway Electronics Corp., which manufactures a
positive train-control system -- a type of anti-collision technology --
being tested on the Rock Island Line in Illinois.
A rail safety bill the House of Representatives passed this week
requires railroads to equip their trains with positive train-control
systems by 2015. Solow said that although the systems are in the testing
phase, he hopes there are actions Metrolink can take to speed up the
eventual implementation on its trains. The measure is pending in the
At Friday's meeting, Metrolink directors hammered at the Federal
Railroad Administration for not being tough enough on railroads. They
were led by MTA board member Richard Katz, whom Villaraigosa appointed
to also serve on the Metrolink board in the wake of the Chatsworth
"Unfortunately, it took 25 deaths for the FRA to become more active and
aggressive in pushing safety features," Katz said. "They've been far too
cozy with the railroads. . . . We really feel that the Federal Railroad
Administration needs to step up."
The Metrolink board unanimously passed a wide-ranging measure aimed at
increasing safety, similar to one the MTA passed a day earlier. Among
the items included were appointing a panel of experts to recommend
safety improvements; equipping cabs with video cameras as soon as
possible; and installing devices to slow or halt trains when a warning
signal is not heeded. These devices are already used on 30 miles of
Metrolink track in Orange County, though the system is dated. Metrolink
has a total of 388 miles of track.
One additional reform is that Metrolink will now perform background
checks on engineers before they're hired. Until now, Veolia
Transportation, which has contracted with Metrolink since 2005 to supply
engineers, has done the background checks.
Robert M. Sanchez, the engineer who was operating the Metrolink train
that crashed and who died in the collision, had pleaded guilty to
misdemeanor shoplifting in 2002. His attorney said he had paid a fine
and spent 90 days in jail on weekends.
Veolia policy is that anyone who has been convicted of a felony within
seven years cannot be hired. Someone who has committed a misdemeanor
during that period can be hired, depending on how the crime relates to