Bolstering the effort to improve safety at Metrolink, directors of the commuter railroad on Friday agreed to buy 20 more state-of-the-art train cars that can better protect passengers and crews during a crash.
The board of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority pushed aside financial pressures and unanimously voted to exercise an option to buy the cars made by the South Korean Hyundai Rotem Co. for $1.68 million each, about $1 million below the market value.
Rotem cars have energy-absorbing crush zones and other safety improvements now required by the federal government — measures that Metrolink has sought since a deadly crash on the border of Glendale and Los Angeles five years ago that killed 11.
Trying to shed its record of major accidents — the most recent being the Chatsworth crash two years ago that caused 25 deaths and 135 injuries — Metrolink is the first commuter service in the country to buy the Hyundai Rotem model.
“This is a big step on a number of levels,” said Richard Katz, who sits on the Metrolink and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority boards. “This will help us become the safest commuter railroad in the nation and five agencies got together to do this in a time of tight budgets.”
Metrolink is funded by regional transportation agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. Because of the downturn in the economy, the agencies are trying to adjust to lower transit ridership, the loss of state funding and steep declines in revenue from county sales taxes that help pay for transportation projects.
The $33.3-million deal will bring the total number of Rotem cars in Metrolink’s fleet to 137 out of 160 passenger cars, which will include 23 older Bombardier coaches that will remain in service. Metrolink plans to roll out 10 of the new Rotem cars on Dec. 6.
Budget concerns had threatened the 20-car purchase option, but John E. Fenton, Metrolink’s chief executive, said the deal could be financed in a way that does not require any out-of-pocket payments by county transportation agencies.
Revenue from state transportation bonds will be used as well as shifting funds from a few railroad crossing projects, an $18 million loan from MTA and $4.2 million in damages paid by Hyundai Rotem for the late delivery of previously ordered cars to Metrolink.
“This is an excellent move,” said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a nonprofit group that monitors public transportation issues and service. “It guarantees safer transportation for the consumer and everyone involved. It’s not the status quo anymore.”