Don’t blame the signal placements

In a Dec. 26 article about signal gaps and the Chatsworth collision, the locations of the signals are clear from your map, yet your “experts” draw the wrong conclusions.

All of the signals shown on your diagram can display various colors or aspects depending on whether the track ahead is occupied. As train 111 approached the signal marked No. 2 on your diagram on the day of the crash, the signal was displaying yellow, which warned the engineer that the next signal was red.

Generally speaking, from Chatsworth station an engineer can see the signal marked No. 3 on your diagram. As soon as signal No. 3 comes into view, an engineer’s actions are supposed to be controlled by that signal, not by the warning from the preceding signal. Repeater or reminder signals can be very useful on curved track or where the engineer’s line of sight is obscured by bridges or tunnels, for example. They are not necessary when there is a clear view of the signal along a straight stretch of track with no obstructions, as is the case from Chatsworth station north to the signal in question. No amount of additional signals or trackside warnings will prevent an accident if the engineer is not looking.

Your contributor Mr. Meshkati says the system was designed “in a very haphazard way.” This is not true. The system was designed to give engineers sufficient advance warning of a stop signal to be able to stop their train before reaching it. In the case of the Chatsworth collision, the engineer had in any event stopped at the station in advance of the red signal. He could see that signal from his cab before leaving the station. He was apparently not paying attention. Only an electronic device that automatically applied the brakes before the red signal would have saved that situation.

As we saw at Rialto just recently and at Placentia in 2002, a second engineer in the cab is not the answer. Let’s get on with installing a modern, fail-safe train control system.

Paul Dyson is president of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California, vice chairman of the Burbank Transportation Commission and a former operations manager for British Railways.