Safety system for Metrolink trains advances


Neil Brown, a mechanical systems manager with Metrolink, explains in 2012 the workings of positive train control technology installed aboard a commuter train in Los Angeles.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A sophisticated safety system that could have prevented the deadly Chatsworth train crash in 2008 is now protecting Metrolink passenger trains that travel on all tracks owned by the commuter railroad in Southern California.

Rail officials announced Wednesday that so-called positive train control has been installed on 341 miles of right of way exclusively belonging to Metrolink, which began rolling out the new technology last year.

The railroad continues to work with Amtrak, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. and the North County Transit District in San Diego County to install positive train control by year’s end on 171 miles of track that the four carriers share with Metrolink.

Officials say that the commuter railroad is the first line in the nation to have the technology operating during regular service on all tracks that it owns.


“This is a time for us to pause, acknowledge how far we have come and then double our efforts,” said Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, chairman of the Metrolink board of directors. “From the beginning, our agency was committed to have our entire system fully operable with PTC before the December 2015 federal deadline.”

Metrolink, which operates on 512 miles of tracks and averages about 42,000 riders per weekday, serves six Southern California counties — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.

Positive train control, which relies on global positioning satellites, digital radio communications and computers to track trains, is part of an ongoing effort by the railroad to overcome its poor reputation for safety after the Chatsworth crash killed 25 people and injured 135.

In that accident, federal investigators concluded that an engineer missed a red stop signal while text messaging on his cellphone and struck a Union Pacific freight train head-on.


With its computer-assisted dispatching and monitoring capabilities, Metrolink’s $216-million system can detect when trains violate speed restrictions, miss signals or enter the wrong track. The technology can automatically take control of the train and apply the brakes in an emergency.

For positive train control to be completed on Metrolink’s system, all trains operated by Amtrak, Burlington Northern, Union Pacific and the North County Transit District’s Coaster will have to be equipped with the technology.

In the wake of the Chatsworth crash, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which called for the installation of positive train control across the nation by the end of 2015.