It’s been a decade since an SUV left on the tracks at Chevy Chase Drive caused one of Metrolink’s deadliest crashes, one that claimed 11 lives and shook the Glendale community.
Metrolink has spent hundreds of millions upgrading its cars and is currently implementing new technologies to prevent further crashes, viewing the tragedy as a motivator for continually increasing its safety measures.
“We’ve come a long way since those days and certainly the 10 years since Glendale, we can pretty safely and confidently say we’re the safest commuter rail line in the country,” said Jeff Lustgarten, a spokesman for the agency.
It was shortly after 6 a.m. on Jan. 26, 2005. Metrolink train 100 was heading southbound when it struck an SUV parked on the tracks near the Glendale and Los Angeles border.
The train jackknifed and the resulting crash killed 11 while injuring nearly 200 more.
Juan Manuel Alvarez, who told investigators he planned to commit suicide, changed his mind at the last minute and left his car behind. He is currently serving 11 consecutive life sentences.
Metrolink in 2009 agreed to pay about $39 million to settle lawsuits.
The accident was the deadliest until three years later, when in September 2008, a train collided head on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, killing 25.
In 2010, Metrolink started rolling out passenger cars and cab cars fitted with “crash energy management technology,” Lustgarten said.
They’re designed so that the bumpers absorb the lion’s share of energy from a collision. Inside, “frangible” tables were installed with the intent of folding up upon impact to curb further injury, he said.
Nearly 140 of the new cars were purchased with a price tag of $210 million.
Following the Chatsworth tragedy, after a train engineer was found to have been texting, cameras have been installed to ensure those manning trains are paying attention.
The newest deterrent being put into play is the Positive Train Control system, which Lustgarten referred to as the single biggest life-saving technology the rail industry has seen.
“It’s basically a community and [global positioning] based technology which allows our trains to be taken over and safely controlled and shut down if the engineer isn’t doing what he or she should be doing,” Lustgarten said.
The new system is currently being tested at nights on the Ventura County and Antelope Valley lines — which both pass through Glendale — and should be permanently installed by springtime, Lustgarten said.
An additional upgrade that could detect foreign objects on train tracks is also currently being looked at, he added.
The 2005 crash happened just months before Councilman Ara Najarian was elected to the Glendale City Council for the first time.
Najarian, who also serves on Metrolink’s board of directors, said the addition of quad gates and other upgrades help keep drivers from making their way onto tracks when an oncoming train is approaching.
“You can never be 100% an accident won’t occur, but will all these technologies, we’re really one of the safest if not the safest railroads that’s out there in operation,” he said.
Looking ahead, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich was critical of the 3% Metrolink receives from Measure R and said the agency needs more backing dollars.
“Metrolink needs its local, state and federal partners to step up their commitment to fund our necessary safety improvements,” he said in a statement.