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Metrolink is still far from completing 3 major safety recommendations

The rail agency has made progress since the fatal Chatsworth crash a year ago, experts say, but it still needs to undertake management and performance assessments, as well as finish a strategic plan.

September 12, 2009|Doug Smith

Though Metrolink has made many safety improvements, a year after the devastating Chatsworth crash, it is still far from completing three major recommendations from a panel of experts, officials reported Friday to the commuter rail's governing board.

The public agency has not undertaken a thorough assessment of its management organization or completed a strategic plan, and its board of directors has not gone though a self-assessment of its performance, said Linda Bollinger, facilitator for the peer review panel set up in the wake of the Chatsworth crash that killed 25 and injured 135 one year ago.

"Frankly, a lot of the one-shots that are the easy things -- filling positions -- have been done," said Peter Cannito, retired president of Metro-North Railroad in New York, who co-heads the panel.

But he added: "The culture has to be nurtured on a continual basis, and that has to include everybody in the organization. . . . You've got to create an environment of unity. I don't think [Metrolink] is there yet, at least in the safety area, but it is progressing in that direction."

The group, composed of people from the industry and academia and one passenger advocate, outlined dozens of changes needed to address deficiencies in the agency's culture.

Most of those, characterized as short-term or medium-term, have been completed, Bollinger said.

Those include filling key staff positions, forming a safety team that includes Chief Executive David R. Solow and tweaking the organization chart so that the safety officer reports to Solow, rather than to the operations director.

Bollinger also said the panel saw significant progress on two key recommendations arising from the Sept. 12, 2008, crash: camera surveillance of train engineers and a high-tech positive control system designed to stop trains in an emergency and eliminate the potential for engineer error. The Chatsworth crash occurred when a Metrolink train hit a freight train. Federal investigators believe the engineer passed a warning light after text-messaging on a cellphone.

Inward-facing cameras to monitor the engineers are now being tested, Bollinger said.

The agency has completed its plan for positive train control, obtained 10% of the funding and set up a project team, she said.

Some board members said they were unsure how to proceed with a self-assessment.

"Will someone come in and give us advice of what we should do?" asked Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian.

Robin Lowe, a Hemet councilwoman, said she would propose the board meet more often.

"I don't think the two meetings a month we have is going to accomplish this," Lowe said.

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doug.smith@latimes.com

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