Family members of passengers killed in the January Metrolink
derailment began a petition drive at several train stations Friday to
demand the transit agency discontinue the practice of locomotives
pushing instead of pulling trains.
The effort was spearheaded by Ann Ormiston, whose husband Tom
Ormiston -- a Metrolink conductor -- was one of 11 killed in the crash. She was joined by relatives of James Tutino, Elizabeth Hill,
Scott McKeown and Manuel Alcala, who were also killed in the crash,
at Metrolink’s Moorpark station. Volunteers handed out petitions at
stations in Glendale and Burbank.
“Basically, we are attempting to get Metrolink to listen to us and
come up with a solution that would work for all of us and work for
passenger safety and put something heavier at the front of the
trains,” Ormiston said.
The derailment was caused by a Jeep Cherokee parked in the path of
a southbound train that careened off the tracks and collided with a
commuter train headed the other direction.
Juan Manuel Alvarez, of Compton, is charged with 11 counts of
murder with special circumstances for driving his Jeep into the path
of the train.
The train that hit the vehicle and derailed was being pushed by a
locomotive at the rear.
Metrolink has been criticized by many for the push/pull method it
uses to propel trains down the track. Even though the train is driven
by an engineer at the front, the lack of weight from an engine makes
the front car susceptible to derailment, critics have said.
The petition urges Metrolink to use the “wye” method of turning
trains around, so that an engine is always at the front of the train.
The “wye” method uses tracks laid down in a three-point-turn
Tom Ormiston warned for years that pushing train with a heavy
locomotive engine at the rear was dangerous, his widow said.
Metrolink has used the method in the past to turn around a special
decorative train during the holiday seasons, but does not do so for
passenger trains, spokeswoman Denise Tyrell said. There are also at
least three sections of track laid out in wye formation on Metrolink
routes, she added.
Though the agency is looking at different ways of enhancing the
safety of rail passengers, leading a train with a locomotive engine
does not ensure that a train will not derail if it strikes an object
in its path, she said.
“We have a great concern that the public is beginning to believe
that the locomotive on the front is some magic bullet,” Tyrell said.
“A nearly identical accident a few years ago where 11 people were
killed even though there were two locomotives at the front.”
The accident happened in Bourbonnais, Ill., in 1999 when a
southbound Amtrak hit a semi truck loaded with steel that was
blocking a grade crossing.
Reception of the petitioners was mixed at the Moorpark station
Thursday, though she had not yet heard from volunteers at other
sites, Ormiston said.
Some passengers signed the petitions on the spot, others walked
away with petitions and promised to send them to Metrolink at a later
date and others declined altogether, she said. Members of the
petition drive said they are doing this to prevent an accident like
this from affecting the lives of other families in the future.
Do you think Metrolink should change its “push-pull” method of
train transport? E-mail your responses to burbankleader @latimes.com;
mail them to the Burbank Leader, 111 W. Wilson Ave., Glendale, CA,
91203. Please spell your name and include your address and phone
number for verification purposes only.
* ROBERT CHACON covers business and politics. He may be reached at