Crash System Likely Saved Lives in Train Derailment

Lives were likely saved in Tuesday's Southern California commuter train derailment by passenger cars designed to absorb a crash that were purchased after a deadly collision a decade ago, Metrolink officials said.

The train bound for Los Angeles struck a pickup truck abandoned after its driver turned onto the tracks. Three of the train's five cars toppled over, injuring 28 people, four critically.

"The good news out of the accident this morning was that the investment we made in crash management systems on those cars saved lives and lessened injuries," said Richard Katz, a Metrolink board member.

The Metrolink board started looking at ways to improve safety after 11 people were killed in 2005 when one of its trains struck a truck parked on the tracks in Glendale.

Three years later, a head-on collision with a freight train in Chatsworth killed 25 and injured 135 others when the locomotive barreled through the first two passenger cars.

"That won't happen with these crash energy management cars," Katz said.

In 2010, Metrolink started buying train cars equipped with Crash Management Technology, which includes inward and outward facing cameras, an elevated seat for the engineer and energy-absorbing zones.

A crush zone between the cab and the cars is designed to disperse energy around the frame of the car.

The seats are also designed with higher backs to better absorb energy and protect passengers.

Many of the collapsible tables were taken out of the cars as well because they can be safety hazards, Katz said.

Some 80 percent of the fleet is made up of the newer cars, which are gray and turquoise. Until they make up the entire fleet, they'll be mixed into each train, always in front as a cab car.

By the end of the summer, Metrolink will also have positive train control, which is GPS technology designed to slow or stop a train if something happens to an engineer, if a train runs through a signal, or if another train is approaching on the same track.

The federal government has mandated the implementation of the system by the end of this year.

That system, however, is not designed to stop collisions with vehicles that are driven or parked on tracks, like the crash that occurred Tuesday.

Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake, said she has been in contact with investigators "and will continue to monitor the investigation closely.

"Clearly there are many unanswered questions that need to be addressed," she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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