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Metrolink gets final delivery of rail cars with safety upgrades

After two fatal crashes, Metrolink seeks to rebuild public trust by adding new cars designed to protect crews and passengers.

June 25, 2013|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • Metrolink board Chairman Keith Millhouse, lower left, speaks at a 2010 news conference about the arrival of Metrolink's first two Hyundai Rotem rail cars. Metrolink announced it has received its last batch of the cars.
Metrolink board Chairman Keith Millhouse, lower left, speaks at a 2010… (Robert Lachman, Los Angeles…)

Spurred by two deadly crashes since 2005, Metrolink has now replaced almost all its fleet of aging rail cars with a state-of-the-art model designed to better protect passengers and crews.

Officials for the commuter railroad announced Tuesday that they have received the last batch of 137 passenger cars purchased for $263.3 million from Hyundai Rotem Inc. in South Korea.

Dubbed the "Guardian Fleet" by Metrolink, the Rotem cars have energy-absorbing crumple zones and other safety measures now required by the federal government — improvements that the railroad pushed hard to make after a deadly Glendale crash that killed 11 people in 2005.

Officials say the new cars mark a milestone in the line's effort to regain public trust following the Glendale wreck and the 2008 collision with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth that left 25 dead and 135 injured.

"Metrolink has gone to great lengths to improve safety protocols throughout our agency and is now leading the nation in rail safety technology," said San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris, chairman of the railroad.

With more than 500 miles of track, Metrolink serves Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties. It averages 41,000 boardings a day.

The Hyundai deals involved 117 cars that have already been delivered and an additional 20 bought at a discount of $1 million per car that arrived between January and June.

Their safety features include piston-like, push-back frames and couplers that transfer crash energy around passengers to the rear of the train.

Also on the list of improvements are redesigned seats, breakaway tables, fire retardant materials, anti-derailing devices, and improved escape and rescue access.

The same measures, along with collapsible nose cones, have been installed on Metrolink's new Rotem cab cars — the passenger coaches with an engineer's station that lead trains when they run in reverse. Often thought to be prone to derailment, the old cab cars were lighter and had little protection in front for the operator and passenger compartment.

Federal research shows that the new safety technology has worked well in simulated accidents with impacts of up to 35 mph. How the improvements will fare in 80-mph crashes remains unclear, though it is believed they should provide better protection for passengers.

"Metrolink has replaced virtually all its fleet of rail cars in an accident-prone area," said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition. "This speaks volumes about the changes that can come about when good people are pushing for improvements and there is public will."

Metrolink still has 23 older Bombardier cars in service. As recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, the railroad has been replacing passenger work tables aboard those cars with a safer design that collapses easily in an accident.

The more rigid tables caused serious and crippling abdominal injuries in several Metrolink accidents, especially during the Chatsworth crash, in which passengers were almost cut in half. NTSB officials first recommended that the tables be replaced after a freight train collided with a Metrolink train in Placentia in 2003, killing three people.

In addition to buying new rail cars, Metrolink has been working on positive train control, a sophisticated collision avoidance system that relies on global positioning satellites, computers and digital communications to track trains.

The federal government required the nation's railroads to install the technology after the Chatsworth crash. Metrolink officials say positive train control will be in operation on a portion of their line later this year and systemwide by spring 2014, well ahead of the December 2015 deadline.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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