Attorneys blame company in deadly train
Published: October 3rd 2008
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
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grieving families and injured passengers still reeling from last month's
deadly Metrolink train crash to think about the future, attorneys are
laying the groundwork for litigation stemming from the head-on collision
that killed 25 people.
At two town-hall meetings Tuesday inside a Simi Valley hotel, lawyers
spoke for two hours about a bullish corporate culture fueling the
operator of Southern California's commuter rail system that they say
leads to unsafe practices.
Metrolink officials knowingly send out trains with mechanical defects
and encourage engineers to exceed speed limits and fudge record-keeping,
all to avoid being late and reap lucrative financial bonuses for
arriving on time, the attorneys said.
"Their chief concern is not what it should be," attorney R. Edward
Pfiester Jr. said. "And that's the safety of their passengers."
His Los Angeles-based law firm, which set up public meetings Tuesday and
Saturday, has represented people from Metrolink train crashes in
Placentia in 2002 and Glendale in 2005.
"Our No. 1 concern is the safety of our passengers," said Francisco
Oaxaca, Metrolink spokesman, who did not attend the meeting Tuesday.
He refused to comment on claims of unsafe practices and a competitive
system of bonuses doled out to train employees and middle management for
keeping trains on time.
Attorneys at Tuesday's meeting spoke before a crowd of about 25 - mainly
residents curious for information about the crash and other lawyers
One woman in the crowd sat sobbing between her parents, still
traumatized by the Sept. 12 collision between a Metrolink passenger
train and a Union Pacific freight train that killed her husband.
Lawyers for the firm shooed reporters away from victims in the crowd and
asked news photographers to respect their privacy and not take photos.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the other public entity
likely to be listed as a defendant in the lawsuits because it owns the
tracks, track structure and signals where the passenger train operated
in Chatsworth, attorney Anthony Petru said.
Other defendants could include Veolia Environmental, which contracts
with Metrolink to provide engineers and conductors; Mass Electric
Construction Co., Herzog Cos., Union Pacific and Bombardier, the
Canadian designer and manufacturer of passenger cars.
Federal investigators are looking into the cause of the crash. On
Wednesday, they said the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, sent a cell
phone text message 22 seconds before his commuter train crashed head-on
into the freight train.
Cell phone records of Sanchez, who was among the dead, show he received
a text message a minute and 20 seconds before the crash, and sent one
about a minute later, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The finding led Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman to
announce that an emergency order will be issued prohibiting use of
personal electronic devices by rail workers operating trains and in
other key jobs. California regulators have already enacted a ban in
response to the disaster.
Investigators are looking into why Sanchez ran through a red signal
before the accident on a curve in the San Fernando Valley community of
Chatsworth. The time of the final text suggests it is unlikely he had
become incapacitated for some reason.