The deadliness of a Jan. 26 Metrolink crash was not a result of the
passenger train being pushed from behind, but rather because it
crashed into a freight train on neighboring tracks, a top Metrolink
official testified Wednesday before a legislative committee on rail
Chief Executive Officer David Solow told the Assembly Special
Committee on Rail Safety that instead of resorting to placing a
locomotive car at the front of trains full time, other safety
measures could be more effective in reducing the prospect of another
crash and the number of fatalities if one were to occur again.
Trains could be made safer by reinforcing the front of train cars,
fitting new cars with impact-absorbing materials, reconfiguring the
interior of cab cars and sealing railway corridors from railway
traffic, Solow said.
The hearing at Glendale’s Central Library Wednesday was called by
Assemblyman Dario Frommer, chairman of the special committee formed
after the January Metrolink crash to investigate the safety of
passenger trains in California.
The committee, which includes assembly members Rudy Bermudez,
Dennis Mountjoy, Karen Bass, Joe Coto, Jenny Oropeza and Sharon
Runner, is also charged with reviewing transportation agencies’
practice of propelling trains down tracks with a locomotive car at
the rear of the trains. Coto, Frommer, Mountjoy and Bermudez attended
the hearing Wednesday.
Eleven people were killed in the Jan. 26 crash near Chevy Chase
Drive and 200 were injured.
The Metrolink passenger train that was heading south hit a Jeep
Cherokee, derailed and collided with another passenger train heading
in the opposite direction on neighboring tracks was being pushed by
an engine at the rear, a practice for which the agency has come under
fire by victims and family members of the passengers killed in the
crash. The southbound train ricocheted into a parked freight train,
which caused many of the fatalities, Solow said.
The crash occurred after Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, allegedly parked
his Jeep Cherokee on the tracks and doused it with gasoline in an
apparent suicide attempt, then abandoned his vehicle before the train
hit, police said. Alvarez has pleaded not guilty to arson and 11
counts of murder.
In numerous lawsuits and claims filed against the agency,
Metrolink has been urged to stop pushing trains from the rear.
Wednesday’s hearing was a chance for Metrolink to present its side
of the facts, but also gave victims a forum to air concerns. A host
of other federal, state and local agencies, including Glendale Fire
and Police departments, also testified in the hearing on issues as
varied as what can be done to make railways safer to the
configuration of the interior of passenger cars.
In a move critics called window-dressing, Metrolink in February
prohibited passengers from sitting in the upper level of the front
car on some trains as a safety precaution stemming from the Jan. 26
Officials from the California Department of Transportation, Public
Utilities Commission, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and the
California Transit Assn. also testified during the four-hour hearing.
Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams Fire Battalion Chief Don Wright
provided testimony as well.
But it was the family members of those killed in the crash that
provided the most poignant moments of the day.
Caressing a portrait of her late husband, Don Wiley, Lien Wiley
spoke to the panel.
“Since the crash, my life has been shattered,” she told the
committee. “I feel that the Metrolink crash should never have
happened. Please help us do whatever it takes to protect the
Wiley and other victims suggested several changes in order to make
passenger trains safer, including banning the pushing of trains,
installing automatic gates at rail crossings that would prohibit cars
from entering rail property, installing monitoring technology that
would warn train engineers of obstacles in their path and installing
breaking mechanisms that could stop a train quicker.
Committee member Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, who seemed
unconvinced throughout the hearing on the safety of Metrolink’s
method of driving trains, repeatedly asked rail officials if they
would feel safer on trains that are pushed or pulled during a crash.
Among the heaps of statistical and anecdotal data presented at the
hearing by officials, two crash test films were played by former
attorney Paul Hedlund.
In one film that showed a locomotive colliding with a cab car, the
locomotive car tears through cab car, tossing it up in the air and
off the tracks.
For Frommer, at least, the film provided the most compelling
evidence that lawmakers need to continue challenging rail officials’
assertions that trains that are pulled are just as likely to derail
as trains that are pushed, a conclusion of a Federal Rail
Administration report released earlier this month.
“That video is pretty convincing that these cab cars are pretty
dangerous,” Frommer said. “I am unconvinced that pushing trains is
That pushing trains is more dangerous than having a locomotive at
the front is just common sense, Mountjoy said after the hearing.
“Despite the fact that there is little statistical significance
between the two, it’s just plain common sense that having a cab car
at the front is more dangerous,” Mountjoy said, adding that he would
support or introduce legislation requiring agencies that run
passenger trains to comply, or forcing them to turn trains around so
that an engine is always at the front.
The committee is going to review information gathered at the
hearing, and will look at Michigan and Ohio’s laws prohibiting
pushing trains, before issuing a decision or order, Frommer said.