The Metrolink commuter rail system’s board of directors on Friday is expected to hire Art Leahy, the former head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as the railroad’s chief executive officer.
Leahy, 66, is a veteran transit official who ran three transportation agencies after starting his career as a bus driver for the old Southern California Rapid Transit District, predecessor to the MTA.
LOS ANGELES – Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the collision between a Southern California commuter train and a truck abandoned on the tracks was this: No one died and only eight people on board were admitted to hospitals.
Officials with the Metrolink train system credit cars designed to blunt the tremendous force of a head-on collision.
The SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team has assigned one of its members to assist the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the crash and derailment of a Metrolink commuter train in Ventura County in California Feb. 24.
Twenty-eight people were injured, four of them critically, when the five-car Metrolink commuter train traveling from Ventura County to Los Angeles struck a truck on the tracks and derailed.
Safety Team Investigator Louis Costa of Local 1241 at Richmond, Calif., will assist the NTSB in determining the facts of the accident.
Safety Team members are selected by the SMART Transportation Division president based upon their knowledge of operating rules and understanding of general railroad operations, train movements and dispatching. When a major rail accident occurs, the NST coordinator immediately assigns one or more NST members to assist in the investigation.
The NTSB has sent a go-team to investigate yesterday’s accident in Oxnard, Calif. Robert Accetta is leading the team as investigator-in-charge. NTSB Board Member Robert L. Sumwalt is accompanying the team and will serve as the principal spokesman during the on-scene phase of the investigation.
A Federal Railroad Administration spokesperson said, “Federal Railroad Administration investigators are en route to the scene, and they will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the factors that contributed to this accident. Safety must be every railroad’s absolute top priority. We will establish what lapses, if any, occurred and order any necessary corrective actions.”
The Metrolink passenger railroad Thursday (Feb. 20) will become the first commuter service in the nation to roll out a sophisticated collision avoidance system designed to overcome human error.
Had so-called positive train control been in place five years ago, experts say, it would have prevented Metrolink’s deadly Chatsworth crash. In that accident, an engineer missed a red stop signal while text-messaging on his cellphone and struck a Union Pacific freight train head-on. Twenty-five people died and 135 were injured.
The chief executive of Los Angeles Metrolink, John Fenton, who has taken the lead among railroads nationwide in advancing, investing in and implementing positive train control (PTC), is departing after two years on the job to head the Florida-based short line holding company Patriot Rail.
Patriot Rail owns 12 short line railroads operating in 12 states over some 500 miles of track. The UTU represents employees on four of those railroads. Patriot Rail is in the process of being acquired by Steel River Infrastructure Partners, which owns and operates port terminal and storage facilities and natural gas and electric transmission lines.
The UTU also represents conductors on Los Angeles Metrolink, whose commuter trains have operated under contract by Amtrak since June 2010.
Los Angeles Metrolink, America’s third largest commuter railroad, carrying 40,000 riders daily in six southern California counties, was rocked in 2008 when 25 people were killed and 135 injured in a horrific head-on crash with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif. The National Transportation Board later blamed the accident primarily on the deceased Metrolink engineer said to have been texting on his cell phone and who ran a red stop signal. At that time, Metrolink trains were operated by Connex Railroad, a subsidiary of France-based Veolia Transport.
Fenton was hired as Metrolink CEO in the wake of the Chatsworth accident following a management shakeup that included, according to the Los Angeles Times, allegations of unaccounted for inventory and a sharply declining ridership.
The Los Angeles Times said that following Fenton’s arrival in April 2010, safety improved markedly, on-time performance improved, ridership grew and costs were reduced. Fenton oversaw the purchase of state-of-the-art rail cars with energy absorbing technology and took the lead among American railroads in pressing ahead with PTC and a timetable to have it operational by 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times.
PTC utilizes the satellite global positioning system (GPS), wireless communications and central control centers to monitor trains and prevent collisions by automatically applying the brakes on trains exceeding authorized speeds, about to run a red light, violate a work zone or run through a switch left in the wrong position.
Safety experts said the Chatsworth accident could have been avoided had PTC been installed. In embracing PTC technology, Fenton told a congressional hearing,“We don’t think there is any time to waste given the unforgiving nature of the environment in which we operate.” In bitter memory of the Chatsworth disaster, Fenton and Metrolink employees wear green wrist bands with the words, “Never Again.”
The Los Angeles Times quoted a safety expert at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering that Fenton’s “departure is a major loss for Southern California and Los Angeles. His safety-culture related accomplishments in such a short time, just two years, were monumental and unique in the country.” Metrolink partners with the Viterbi School of Engineering on safety advances.
Patriot Rail’s 12 short lines include:
* Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway in Montana
* Columbia & Cowitz Railway in Washington (UTU represented)
* DeQueen & Eastern Railway in Arkansas (UTU represented)
* Golden Triangle Railroad in Mississippi
* Louisiana & North West Railroad in Arkansas and Louisiana (UTU represented)
* Patriot Woods Railroad in Washington (UTU represented)
* Piedmont & Northern Railroad in North Carolina
* Sacramento Valley Railroad in California
* Temple & Central Texas Railway in Texas
* Tennessee Southern Railroad in Alabama and Tennessee
LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit brought by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen against Los Angeles Metrolink to eliminate inward-facing video cameras in the cab has been dismissed by a judge here.
Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin said the inward-facing cameras, which monitor crew activities in the cab, do not violate privacy rights, reports the Associated Press.
Metrolink ordered that inward-facing cameras be installed in commuter-train cabs following a September 2008 catastrophic accident in Chatsworth, Calif., in which a Metrolink train ran a red signal and collided with a freight train, killing 25 and injuring more than 100 on the Metrolink train. The Metrolink engineer, who died in the crash, was found to have been texting repeatedly.
Following that accident, the Federal Railroad Administration banned the use by train crews, nationwide, of most electronic devices.
LOS ANGELES — A former Federal Railroad Administration chief safety officer, Jim Schultz, who later became a highly respected safety officer at CSX, is advising Los Angeles Metrolink as it moves to lead the rail industry in installing and implementing a positive train control system on Metrolink’s seven-route, 512-mile system serving the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura.
Schultz, who was the FRA’s chief safety officer during the mid-1990s, won substantial praise at CSX during the late 1990s for his efforts — not entirely successful — to end the industry’s 19th century military legacy of top-down management engaging in employee harassment and intimidation to enforce safety rules and regulations.
In its place, Schultz, a former Air Force fighter pilot and Chicago & North Western operating officer, advocated peer intervention and coaching within a progressive corporate culture that recognizes employees do not intentionally violate safety rules and regulations.
Now semi-retired, Schultz is advising the Los Angeles Metrolink board of directors, which last week agreed to award a $120 million contract to Parsons Transportation Group to manage and integrate what the board calls “an aggressive implementation schedule” for PTC.
Recognizing the United Transportation Union’s perennial strong advocacy for positive train control, Schultz accompanied Metrolink CEO John Fenton to Washington, D.C., last week to brief UTU International President Mike Futhey and Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch on Metrolink’s PTC progress.
“Metrolink was the nation’s first rail operator to receive FRA approval for its PTC implementation plan,” Fenton said, and intends to be the “first railroad” to put it in operation. A federal mandate requires that freight and passenger railroads install PTC on designated lines by Dec. 31, 2015.
Positive train control, which has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “most wanted” list for more than a decade, is collision avoidance technology that monitors and controls train movements remotely, can prevent train-to-train collisions, prevent unauthorized train movement into a work zone, halt movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position, and stop trains exceeding authorized speeds.
The Los Angeles Metrolink system, said Fenton, will consist of:
PTC on-board computers, display screens, GPS tracking, and radios on 57 cab-cars and 52 locomotives.
Stop-enforcement at 476 wayside signals.
Specialized communications to link wayside signals, trains and central dispatch.
A new central dispatch system.
Full interoperability with PTC eventually installed on freight railroads over whose track Metrolink operates — BNSF and Union Pacific.
While at CSX, Schultz said, “More than 150 years of ingrained tradition and culture must be changed” — replaced by “safety advocacy … We must create an open workplace where employees, their labor unions and management work as a team to take advantage of every opportunity to catch and push the company to a zero tolerance for safety breaches.”
Schultz was an early advocate of joint labor-management collaboration to draft improved safety standards, which is now embodied in the mission of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), through which all segments of the rail community work together to fashion mutually satisfactory solutions on safety regulatory issues.