Boxer Reminds Metrolink: Train Crew Members Shouldn’t Ride Solo

The transportation spending bill passed by the Senate this week includes $50 million in rail safety grants sought in June
by environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) — but the
bill may not become law for months, and today Boxer told California’s
Metrolink commuter rail that interim safety protections would have to
stay in place.

Metrolink_Crash.jpgFlickr photo: ProKelly

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Metrolink crash that
left 25 people dead and prompted a federal mandate to install the
safety monitoring system known as "positive train control" on all
commuter rail systems. The accident also helped advance the push for a
national ban on on texting while driving, the activity that was found
to contribute to the accident. 

A recent report
in the Los Angeles Times found that while Metrolink was making progress
on some of the changes its officials vowed to make in the wake of the
crash, other promises remained unfulfilled. In a letter sent today to
Metrolink chairman Keith Millhouse, Boxer said she "was pleased" when
the rail network started adding a second crew member to train operating
teams, adding: "As we work together to ensure that positive train
control is implemented as quickly as possible, safety must not be
compromised in the interim."

This week’s transportation spending bill also includes $500,000
Boxer set aside for Metrolink to help pay for installation of "positive
train control," a computer-based system that helps prevent crashes by
automatically detecting when two trains travel too close to one
another.

The senator’s full letter to Millhouse follows after the jump.

September 18, 2009

Keith Millhouse

Chairman

Metrolink

Dear Chairman Millhouse:

I
am deeply concerned that on average, 87 percent of Metrolink trains
operate without a second crew member in the train cab.  While I
recognize that Metrolink is moving forward with the installation of
cameras in its train cabs, I continue to believe that a second crew
member in the cab is an essential interim safety measure that must be
employed.  One year after the tragic Chatsworth crash that killed 25
people and injured 135 more, we cannot afford to undermine steps we
have taken to improve the safety of commuter rail.

Last September, I chaired a briefing for Senators
on the cause of the Metrolink tragedy.  I requested that interim safety
measures be immediately implemented in the absence of the installation
of positive train control. Former Metrolink Chairman Ron Roberts
pledged at that briefing to add an extra crew member in the train cabs
to act as an “extra set of eyes” to prevent another tragedy. I was
pleased when Metrolink began to follow through on that pledge.

While I understand the challenges facing commuter
rail in this difficult economy, safety must continue to be the top
priority. As we work together to ensure that positive train control is
implemented as quickly as possible, safety must not be compromised in
the interim.

Thank you for your attention to this critical
matter and I look forward to your
response.                                                                                                

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer

United States Senator

3 thoughts on Boxer Reminds Metrolink: Train Crew Members Shouldn’t Ride Solo

  1. I’m glad the feds are ponying up for safety grants (even though they don’t have any money that isn’t borrowed) because, if anything, Metrolink should be running more trains with fewer cars each to improve its service frequency. The whole system, with its hundreds of miles of track has something like 45,000 riders on an average weekday, or approximately the same amount of riders as the Green Line.

    We know the problems: expensive fares, infrequent service, and a lack (no disrespect intended) of anything much, particularly jobs, at most Metrolink stops. These things kill ridership. It’s a familiar vicious cycle of low ridership and revenue causing bad service and vice versa.

    So, again I think a key to breaking the cycle is more trains, with fewer cars each. Metro rail changes the number of cars per train to reflect demand, and Metrolink should too (if possible). What’s the point of wasting energy and money to carry empty cars? With the money Metrolink saves, hopefully it can improve its service and lower its fares, thus improving ridership.

  2. Yay. Senators making operations decisions. Always a good idea. Just like senators making engineering decisions to impose PTC.

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