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Train safety system is previewed

Metrolink shows off its progress on a pioneering crash prevention project.

September 11, 2012|Dan Weikel
  • Neil Brown, a mechanical systems manager with Metrolink, explains the workings of positive train control technology installed aboard a commuter train in Los Angeles.
Neil Brown, a mechanical systems manager with Metrolink, explains the… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

Metrolink on Monday previewed a pioneering, $200-million crash prevention project for a top federal safety official, who expressed concern about railroad industry efforts to postpone deadlines for installing the sophisticated train safety system in other parts of the country.

Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, viewed a locomotive and a rail car equipped with positive train control technology and testing gear at a downtown Metrolink rail yard.

The system combines global positioning devices, digital radio communications and computers to track trains and take control of them if necessary to prevent collisions, derailments and other accidents.

Metrolink officials plan to install positive train control on their 500-mile Southern California commuter rail network by December 2013, two years ahead of a federal requirement for the system to be deployed nationwide. Field testing of the equipment is taking place on nights and weekends.

Hersman and other federal officials praised Metrolink and local transit leaders for their commitment to the project, which was fast-tracked after the 2008 Chatsworth crash, which killed 25 people and injured 135.

NTSB investigators blamed the head-on collision with a Union Pacific freight train on a Metrolink engineer who was text messaging and failed to notice a red stop signal.

The accident led the agency to renew a 20-year-old effort to have the nation's railroads install positive train control.

A 2015 deadline to deploy the safety system on passenger trains and freight trains carrying hazardous cargo was imposed by Congress after the Chatsworth disaster. But there have been recent efforts to relax the deadline by freight railroads and some public transportation agencies.

Hersman described Met- rolink's progress on positive train control as "a historic milestone" and a "great model" for the nation. She predicted that more rail accidents would occur if the 2015 deadline is rolled back.

"Critics still say that positive train control is too costly and won't work," Hersman said.

"But Metrolink has committed capital to this and has shown it can be done."

Last month, the Federal Railroad Administration recommended that Congress delay the deadline because most railroads will not meet it. FRA officials said freight and passenger railroads have had difficulty installing the systems, partly because of a shortage of needed equipment and software.

Hersman said the complaints are similar to those once mounted by the aviation industry, which resisted proposals to install collision avoidance systems in aircraft.

"We've been here before," she said.

Hersman noted that collision-prevention devices are now a standard requirement for many types of aircraft and have dramatically reduced midair collisions.

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

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