Crash Lawyer Says Safer Metrolink Passenger Car Fleet, Step in Right Direction. Now Where’s the Positive Train Control?

Metrolink crash victims’ lawyer says that the new train cars offer safety features including a crush zone, fire retardant seats, and collapsible tables, among other things. He is pleased about the safer cars which increase survivability but he hopes to see collision avoidance technology which is the ultimate goal.

When Paul Hedlund, an attorney and mechanical engineer, testified at the California State Assembly’s commuter rail safety hearing after the 2005 Glendale, California Metrolink crash, he explained how passenger train cab cars, known as “coffin cars” could be made to be more crashworthy. He showed two independently produced train crash test videos exposing the vulnerability of cab cars. The videos stunned the Committee members when it revealed the cab car with shock absorbers suffered very little damage compared to the cab car without shock absorbers. Mr. Hedlund also discussed push versus pull in general terms and the inherent dangers in pushing passenger cars with a locomotive and why pulling passenger cars with a locomotive is safer.

In TV news interviews following the 2008 Chatsworth, California Metrolink collision, Mr. Hedlund discussed how Positive Train Control systems and other technology would have prevented tragedies like the Glendale incident from occurring. “Safety measures, including manufacturing safer rail passenger cars and Positive Train Control collision avoidance systems, are a necessity,” Mr. Hedlund said.

Earlier this month, Metrolink unveiled its new fleet of stainless steel passenger cars, declaring them the safest in the country. The new “Guardiancq” fleet is designed to crumple on impact, a potentially life-saving feature that disperses crash energy. The new fleet also boasts an elevated compartment to provide the engineer with better visibility. According to officials, ten cars will be up and running in December 2010 and by late 2011 a total of 137 new cars will be in service across the Metrolink system. The new fleet will hopefully help prevent passenger deaths and injuries like those seen in two recent Metrolink crashes. In 2005, 11 people were killed in a Metrolink crash near Glendale, and in 2008, 25 people died and 135 were injured when a Metrolink train and a Union Pacific freight train collided head-on in Chatsworth.

Many are seeing the new fleet as a giant step in the right direction when it comes to rail safety. However, attorney Paul Hedlund, who represents numerous victims from both the Glendale and Chatsworth Metrolink crashes said, "It’s a step at lessoning injury and increasing survivability, but it does nothing for avoidance, which is the ultimate aim." Metrolink also announced plans to install positive train control technology by 2015 that will help prevent train-on-train collisions.