Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Metrolink new crash-resistant cars next month

Metrolink is set to roll out new crash-resistant cars, nearly five years after the deadly Glendale train wreck that killed 11 people. The cars have "crush zones" that collapse to absorb impact, said Metrolink spokeswoman Angela Starr. Metrolink officials say it will be the first commuter train line in the nation to use the technology. Two cars a cab and passenger car will arrive next month and the agency hopes to phase in a total of 117 cars, said Starr. The first two cars will be in service as early as next summer. Nearly five years after a deadly Metrolink train wreck in Glendale intensified debate about passenger car design, Southern California's commuter rail service will soon take delivery of new high-tech, crash-resistant cars, officials announced Thursday. The event marked a coming-out session for Metrolink's new interim chief executive, Eric Haley, who this week replaced David R. Solow. Haley, the former top executive at the Riverside County Transportation Commission, said he would focus on safety improvements, such as a computerized collision-avoidance system, closing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and helping guide the search for a "world-class executive" as his permanent replacement.

Responding to a Times report on Thursday, officials said they would review a 13-year-old federal waiver that allowed Metrolink to forgo installing simple safety signs intended to avoid crashes like last year's head-on collision in Chatsworth that left 25 dead and 135 injured. The signs were intended to remind engineers to proceed slowly, watching for signal status after they stop at stations that are between trackside control lights.

Officials insisted their signage and signal system are safe. They said the decision not to place the placards at stations was made with the approval of federal regulators. Among other things, the signs could be confusing for freight and Amtrak train engineers using the same tracks, Metrolink officials said. Those trains often do not stop at Metrolink stations.

The staff of the state Public Utilities Commission, which also regulates some Metrolink operations, concluded this week that the signs provide important safety benefits and should be installed at commuter rail systems across the state.

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