LOS ANGELES -- Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight railroad companies announced today they will install automated safety systems along shared tracks in the Los Angeles area by 2012.
The announcement was made in response to the Metrolink train collision in Chatsworth that killed 25 people and left at least 130 injured less than a month ago.
The so-called positive train control system is designed as a safeguard against human error and would slow or stop a train in the event it runs a red light, goes too fast or is on a collision course.
New federal legislation awaiting President Bush's signature requires train companies to install such systems by 2015. But the Sept. 12 crash in the San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth prompted the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway company to voluntarily plan to beat that deadline within the Los Angeles area.
"Installation of positive train control in the Los Angeles basin is a result of Chatsworth," said Jeff Young, assistant vice president of Union Pacific's information technology division.
"This incident has accelerated our deployment to get this taken care of."
Speaking at a hearing for the state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, officials of the two freight companies said they would be using mutually compatible train control systems, which means locomotives from either company can operate on track operated by the other.
The system, which also will be used by the Norfolk Southern railway in the eastern U.S., works by using computers to predict when a train appears to be about to run a red light, then applies the brakes. Each train's location is monitored via satellite and radio transmissions along the track.
While the track infrastructure for the new system will be in place in the Los Angeles area by 2012, not every single locomotive will be fitted with a control computer by that date, officials said.
Nationwide, the system would cost Union Pacific up to $1 billion to install and BNSF $500 million.
An August 1999 report by the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee found about half of all accidents in the 1990s could have been prevented by some form of positive train control.
The Sept. 12 collision occurred when a Metrolink commuter train failed to stop at a red light and ended up on the same track as an oncoming freight train.
Investigators have said the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, sent dozens of text messages on his shift and one just 22 seconds before the collision. He died in the crash.
Metrolink will immediately begin equipping its trains with positive train control systems that will work on track operated by the freight companies, company CEO David Solow said, but it would take longer to fit Metrolink track out with its own transponders.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein appeared at the hearing to chastise train companies for taking so long to get to get their safety systems running but she also praised them for now trying to beat the deadline. Feinstein also criticized Metrolink's practice of putting its engineers on split shifts.
"The only safety measure in place to avoid disaster is one pair of eyes that belong to an engineer whose work day begins before dawn and ends after sunset," Feinstein said.
Since the Chatsworth collision, Metrolink has begun placing a second engineer or a conductor in the cab when it can to make sure signals are observed, said Ronald Hartman, executive vice president of Veolia, a subcontractor that supplies engineers to Metrolink.
He also said split shifts help prevent fatigue and worked well for engineers and the company, but said the firm would drop the shifts if it was required to.
Feinstein lashed the Federal Railroad Administration for being an "old-boys club" reluctant to enforce regulations.
The agency had looked at positive train control systems as early as 1994 but decided then the technology was not up to par and was too expensive.
"I will be watching to make sure the Federal Railroad Administration ... becomes the regulator we need," Feinstein said.
Two Railroad Co. to Install Crash Prevention Systems
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