Metrolink Rolls Out Safer Rail Cars

After fatal crashes, the transportation agency is making efforts to improve its record and reputation. By Megan O’Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com December 7, 2010 Metrolink officials on Monday unveiled a fleet of “crunchable” train cars designed to absorb impact during a crash, the latest in the rail agency’s efforts to improve safety in the wake of deadly accidents in 2005 and 2008. Manufactured by South Korea-based Hyundai Rotem and assembled in the Inland Empire, the cars are the safest in the country, said Keith Millhouse, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. They feature energy-absorbing crush zones, retractable couplers and rear-facing passenger seats, all designed to reduce impact on riders in the event of a crash. The engineering compartment is also elevated, providing enhanced visibility, Millhouse said during an event at the Glendale Amtrak/Metrolink station. Ten Hyundai Rotem cars will be put into operation starting next week, Millhouse said. And Metrolink plans on having 137 cars — dubbed the “Guardian Fleet” — in operation by the end of 2012 at a total cost of about $250 million. “For our passengers to be the first in the nation to have the opportunity and peace of mind to ride in these cars is very rewarding for our board and for me,” Millhouse said. The new rail cars are part of a broader effort to enhance rail safety, including investments in automotive train-stopping technology, and a network of cameras that will capture activity in and around the trains. Metrolink’s safety record has been tarnished in recent years by several fatal crashes. In September 2008, a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train in Chatsworth, killing 25 riders and injuring 135 more. The crash was the deadliest in Metrolink history. The engineer, Montrose resident Robert Sanchez, who died in the accident, apparently failed to yield to a red light after sending cellular text messages, according to federal investigators. In January 2005, a Metrolink train derailed in Glendale after striking an SUV that had been left on the tracks in an aborted suicide attempt. Eleven people were killed, and scores more injured. The driver of the SUV, Juan Manuel Alvarez, is now in prison serving multiple life sentences. The accidents, which resulted in years of litigation, were on the minds of public officials and guests who gathered at the Glendale train station Monday to take a peek inside the Hyundai Rotem train cars, part of a day-long whistle stop tour. “It was the tragic Glendale incident in 2005 that got the board of directors of Metrolink thinking outside the box — thinking how we could make our entire system safer,” said Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who also serves on the Metrolink Board of Directors. City of Glendale employee Jim Walls, who rides the Metrolink train from Glendora each day, lost a close friend and work colleague Scott McKeoun in the 2005 Metrolink crash. But on Monday he said he still views the train as a safe and stress-free alternative to commuting by car. “I have been a lifelong rail fan, so I have always enjoyed riding trains,” Walls said. “It is still safer than driving yourself.” La Mirada resident Rose Bourassa said she also makes a daily commute on Metrolink to her job at Glendale-based Vege Kurl, a cosmetics manufacturing company. She uses her time on the train to relax and visit with follow passengers, she said. “This summer alone I read two dozen books,” said Bourassa, 56. “Last year at this time I was crocheting scarves for Christmas. I’ve got a lot of new friends from riding. My kids like me better when I get home because I am not stressed from driving in traffic.”

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