CNS – Metrolink trains will be equipped with 1940s-era automatic train stop technology as an interim measure to avoid a repeat of the Sept. 12 fatal crash of a Metrolink commuter train near Chatsworth, the agency’s board decided. Voting to adopt a “safety first” policy, the board also approved the creation of a safety review committee composed of industry experts who will make short- and long-term recommendations for safety improvements.
The automatic train stop technology will be used as a stopgap measure while the transportation agency pursues plans to implement the more advanced and expensive positive train control technology as soon as possible, according to Metrolink officials.
Automatic train stop technology, which has been around since the 1940s, uses receivers placed about 100 feet before each warning signal that a conductor must acknowledge within eight seconds, similar to turning off a home security alarm. If the conductor fails to do so, the technology automatically causes the train to slow to a stop. ATS technology is currently available on about 10 percent of Metrolink routes, according to agency officials.
Positive train control technology, a more sophisticated system, uses global positioning systems on locomotives and automatic control systems to override human errors. Congress on Wednesday approved a train safety bill that requires positive train control technology to be on all passenger trains and freight trains that transport hazardous materials by 2015. Metrolink officials said they don’t intend to wait that long.
“We need to push it,” said former assemblyman and Metro and Metrolink Board Member Richard Katz.
He added that freight companies that operate on the same tracks as Metrolink should be part of the safety discussion.
“We need to move ahead if we have to drag them kicking and screaming to the table … let’s hope they’ve learned something from this,” he said.
Darrell Maxey of Metrolink engineering said the agency’s staff has set up a meeting for next week with suppliers of PTC equipment, and will meet with railroad and Federal Railroad Authority officials soon thereafter.
“It’s a lot of analysis, a lot of work, but it’s doable,” he said
While technological improvements are made, short-term safety measures, such as using two engineers per locomotive in high-density urban areas, are under way, Metrolink officials reported. Operator error is being investigated as the possible cause of the Sept. 12 collision between Metrolink train No. 111 and a Union-Pacific freight train that killed 25 people and injured more than 100 others. The engineer, who may have been text messaging on a cell phone before the crash, apparently ran a red light indicating another train was on the track, although a National Transportation Safety Board investigation is continuing.
At the recommendation of Katz and fellow board member Jaime de la Vega, Metrolink will reevaluate its hiring and employee monitoring procedures, as well as its rules governing how many hours per day an employee can work — something Katz blasted the Federal Railroad Administration for not regulating more strictly.
“The fact that these are recommendations for railroads and don’t have the same kind of force of law is absurd to any reasonable person,” he said.
“We should be looking at going further on our own.”
“We really think the Federal Railroad Administration needs to step up,” he said later. He said the agency should act “more like an administration that is out to look out for the interests of the commuters and the public as opposed to the economic viability of the railroad.”
Warren Flatau, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Adminis-tration, said the agency cannot change laws governing how many hours train engineers can work. Under the current law, an engineer can operate a train for up to 432 hours a month—that’s 14 hours a day for 30 days straight. By contrast, commercial airline pilots can legally fly 100 hours a month.
The so-called Hours of Service Laws for rail operators are governed by statute rather than regulation, so only Congress can amend them, he said. The last time they were amended was 1969, according to agency officials. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a rail safety bill that requires more rest for workers and positive train control technology, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain.