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Metrolink performance on key reform stuns Boxer

The senator is shocked that 87% of trains still have just one crew member in the cab a year after the Chatsworth crash.

September 19, 2009|Rich Connell

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said Friday she was "stunned" that the Metrolink regional rail service still runs 87% of its trains with only a single crew member in the control cab.

The agency had said it would double up on crew members in locomotives as part of a series of safety reforms after the Chatsworth crash a year ago that killed 25 and injured 135. The so-called second-set-of-eyes plan was a hastily implemented reform after investigators found that the Metrolink engineer had been text messaging on a cellphone and apparently ran a red light just before crashing head-on into a freight train.

Agency officials said that the lookout program was never intended to cover every train and that there are no current plans to expand it.

On average, about 13% of Metrolink trains this year have had a second crew member riding with the engineer, records show. The monthly average has varied from about 5% of trains to nearly 20% since last September's crash.

"This is not good," Boxer said in an interview. She said she was led to believe after the Chatsworth crash that the agency would be adding crew members to all trains until a high-tech collision avoidance system could be deployed.

"It was implicit in the conversation," she said, recalling a briefing she chaired last year with senators and Metrolink officials. She raised her concerns Friday in a letter to Metrolink Chairman Keith Millhouse.

Metrolink Vice Chairman Richard Katz, responding for the agency, said, "We tried to assess where [extra crew members] would be most efficient and where we would get the biggest safety improvement, and that's where we put them."

He said the figure cited by Boxer is a several-month average for the entire system. On any given day, 30% to 40% of trains may have a second crew member in the cab, he said, while at other, less busy times on the rails only a few trains may have extra engineers.

In an e-mail, Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said crew members have been added to "as many trains as possible using all currently available train crew personnel." He said that would continue until a new video surveillance system focusing on train engineers is operational.

Boxer said she would press for more control cab lookouts until new train control safety systems are in place.

"I'm not happy with this," she said. "I'm going to have to work with them to see what's the problem."

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rich.connell@latimes.com

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