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Metrolink to receive new crash-resistant cars next month

The 117 cars have energy-absorbing ends to distribute the force of head-on crashes and feature breakaway interior tables. "These cars will save lives," said Metrolink Chairman Keith Millhouse.

December 18, 2009|By Rich Connell
  • Metrolink chief executive Eric Haley outlines agency safety initiatives at a news conference in L.A.
Metrolink chief executive Eric Haley outlines agency safety initiatives… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Nearly five years after a deadly Metrolink train wreck in Glendale intensified debate about passenger car design, Southern California's commuter rail service will soon take delivery of new high-tech, crash-resistant cars, officials announced Thursday.

Two of the new-generation cars, the first of their kind in the nation, are to be unloaded from a ship in the Port of Long Beach in mid-January and will be put into service as early as next summer, agency officials said in a news conference at a Metrolink maintenance yard northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The cars, which are arriving several months behind schedule, have energy-absorbing ends designed to distribute the force of train-on-train collisions. Other features include breakaway interior tables.

"These cars will save lives," said Metrolink Chairman Keith Millhouse.

The agency is purchasing 117 of the cars at an estimated cost of $229 million. Final assembly of the cars, which are manufactured in South Korea, will take place at Metrolink's Eastern Maintenance Facility in Colton, creating about 60 skilled jobs.

While promoting the cars' crash-worthiness, officials said that avoiding accidents with layers of new safety improvements and technologies is their primary goal.

The groundbreaking cars will go through extensive field testing before they carry passengers. "We have to get it right the first time," Millhouse said.

The event marked a coming-out session for Metrolink's new interim chief executive, Eric Haley, who this week replaced David R. Solow. Haley, the former top executive at the Riverside County Transportation Commission, said he would focus on safety improvements, such as a computerized collision-avoidance system, closing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and helping guide the search for a "world-class executive" as his permanent replacement.

Responding to a Times report on Thursday, officials said they would review a 13-year-old federal waiver that allowed Metrolink to forgo installing simple safety signs intended to avoid crashes like last year's head-on collision in Chatsworth that left 25 dead and 135 injured. The signs were intended to remind engineers to proceed slowly, watching for signal status after they stop at stations that are between trackside control lights.

Officials insisted their signage and signal system are safe. They said the decision not to place the placards at stations was made with the approval of federal regulators. Among other things, the signs could be confusing for freight and Amtrak train engineers using the same tracks, Metrolink officials said. Those trains often do not stop at Metrolink stations.

The staff of the state Public Utilities Commission, which also regulates some Metrolink operations, concluded this week that the signs provide important safety benefits and should be installed at commuter rail systems across the state.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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