The board of the Metrolink commuter railroad on Friday will consider spending $1.5 million to repair flawed parts on 57 passenger cars — a move that could resolve a critical safety issue that surfaced after a Metrolink train derailed near Oxnard last year, killing the engineer and injuring 34 people.
Metrolink officials say they want to upgrade and reinforce the front end plows — once known as "cow catchers" — on all their new Hyundai Rotem cab cars, which are passenger coaches with an engineer's position.
"If done properly and they work properly, the repairs should resolve the safety issues," said Shawn Nelson, an Orange County supervisor who chairs the Metrolink board.
Cab cars are placed in the lead position of Metrolink trains when they reverse direction at the end of a line — a common practice in the commuter railroad industry.
On Feb. 24, 2015, a Metrolink train with a cab car in front collided with a utility pickup and trailer that strayed onto the tracks at a rail crossing outside Oxnard.
In the resulting derailment, 31 passengers and two crew members were hurt. The engineer, Glenn Steele, later died of his injuries.
An internal investigation by Metrolink revealed that the plow of the cab car — a device designed to keep debris and wreckage from getting under train wheels — broke off in the crash and was found well behind the wreckage.
After reviewing the Hyundai Rotem cars, investigators concluded that the plows, which are also known as pilots, had defective welds and did not meet specifications for the amount of force they were supposed to withstand.
The National Transportation and Safety Board is investigating whether the specification and manufacturing issues contributed to the derailment and severity of the collision.
The NTSB is responsible for exploring all aspects of the crash, determining the probable cause and making safety recommendations. No conclusions have been reached yet.
If approved, the funding will pay for a variety of repairs, including the reinforcement of plow assembly bolts, welds and brackets. Rail officials are developing a timeline for the work.
The cab car involved in the Oxnard crash was among 137 passenger coaches that Metrolink bought several years ago for more than $263 million. Fifty-seven were cab cars.
Dubbed the "Guardian Fleet" by the railroad, the vehicles were reputed to be among the safest in the railroad industry. All were equipped with crumple zones to absorb crash impacts and other safety features now required by the federal government, such as improved rescue access, breakaway tables and more fire retardant materials.
As a hedge against a similar accident, Metrolink officials decided last October to lease 40 freight locomotives from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. and place them at both of ends of trains until the cab cars could be repaired.
Due to operational and mechanical issues, Metrolink has been slow to put the BNSF engines into service, and many passengers have continued to ride in the Hyundai cab cars.
When the leased freight engines have been used, residents who live near Metrolink tracks have lodged dozens of complaints about engine and horn noise.
The majority of complaints have come from Covina, Claremont, Pomona, Baldwin Park and San Dimas. Metrolink has conducted three community meetings so far, in the cities of Baldwin Park, Claremont and San Dimas.
According to railroad officials, the engines will be returned to BNSF as soon as possible after repairs are made to the cab-car plows.
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