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Metrolink to review report on Chatsworth crash

December 12, 2008 |  7:05 am

The Metrolink board is scheduled to receive a report today from a special panel formed to examine the agency’s safety and operating procedures in the wake of the catastrophic Chatsworth train collision.

The 11-member panel, which mainly includes experts from the commuter industry and academia, was ordered to prepare the report in October. Metrolink has come under intense scrutiny since the Sept. 12 accident that killed 25 and injured 135.

Read more on Metrolink's safety history.

Federal investigators have said that a Metrolink train failed to stop at a red warning light and slammed into an oncoming Union Pacific freight train on a single line of shared track. The engineer of Metrolink 111 sent dozens of text messages while on duty the day of the crash, including one just 22 seconds before impact, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The investigation will be ongoing for months before a probable cause is determined. The Times reported in September that Metrolink has amassed the most fatalities among commuter railroads of similar size in the United States over the last decade. Since 1999, more than 90 people have died in accidents involving Metrolink trains, according to federal data.

Metrolink has changed several operating practices since the Chatsworth crash, including putting an extra crew member in the train cab and revising procedures for confirming trackside warning signals. The agency also added a speed regulation after a Metrolink train accelerated to nearly 70 mph before sideswiping a freight carrier in Rialto last month, injuring five people.

That Metrolink train also ran a red light, investigators said. Experts have criticized the safety changes, saying the commuter line should have conducted a top-to-bottom overhaul of its safety policies earlier.

“Making changes after each accident is not the best way to have a safe operation,” said Barry M. Sweedler, who spent 30 years with the NTSB as an investigator and administrator.

The agency insists that the rail line is safe and has vowed to make it even safer. Today’s report is a key part of that effort, officials said.

We’ll be at the meeting and keep you updated.

--Robert J. Lopez and Rich Connell