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Relatives petition Metrolink

Robert Chacon

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

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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,

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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

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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

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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

formation.

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.

QUESTION

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

(818) 637-3239.


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