September 2008/Los Angeles Times photo
The National Transportation Safety Board hearing on that horrific train collision in Chatsworth last year is over. The question now is what is going to be done to make sure an accident like that never happens again. There were some startling revelations during the two day hearing in Washington DC about that train disaster on September 12, 2008 that killed 25 and injured at least 125 others.
Testimony from witnesses revealed evidence of repeated violations by the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, including on duty cell phone and text messaging; and allowing teen rail enthusiasts to ride-along in the train cab and reportedly even handled the controls. Investigators say Sanchez sent a text message shortly before blowing through a red signal and slamming head-on into the Union Pacific train.
On Tuesday, a statement on the Metrolink website called the violations by Sanchez “unacceptable” and said new safety precautions have been activated by the Board of Directors: “Within weeks of the collision, the Board had established an independent Commuter Rail Safety Peer Review Panel comprised of national commuter rail industry experts to provide far-reaching safety recommendations to the agency. Metrolink has already begun to implement a wide range of safety enhancements including a “second set of eyes,” procurement of inward-facing cameras, changes in operating rules and installation of Automatic Train Stop technology at various locations on the Metrolink system as one critical interim safety measure.”
Also during the Washington hearing, there was testimony about violations by the Union Pacific freight train crew, which included illegal use of cell phones and marijuana by at least one crew member.
Yesterday in a press release, the Metrolink Board Chairman, Keith Millhouse, announced plans are moving forward to install video cameras on its passenger and freight trains: “Our top priority is passenger safety,” said Millhouse. “We believe the installation of cameras in the control cabs of our trains will provide a significant deterrent to the type of activity revealed during the NTSB hearing.”
According to the Metrolink press release, the plan is to purchase and install 218 cameras and recorders. The Metrolink has scheduled the installation of the new cameras on its 52 locomotives to begin this summer. Also, 57 new camera-equipped lead passenger cars have been ordered and are due to arrive in 2010. This is a good step, but other changes such as stricter penalties for breaking safety rules and better oversight of train crews need to be implemented now, in order to protect train passengers as much as possible.