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Clash over Metrolink personality tests may be avoided

April 22, 2010 |  8:56 pm

In a move that may avoid a major labor-management clash, Southern California's commuter rail service announced Thursday that it is modifying a plan to use personality tests to screen all new and existing train crews.

As part of a transition to a new operating contractor, Metrolink had adopted a requirement that all engineers and conductors pass personality tests designed to assess workers' suitability for jobs. The tests, part of reforms recommended after the 2008 Chatsworth disaster that killed 25 people, were to be administered by Amtrak, which will begin providing train crews this summer.

Railroad unions had threatened to boycott the tests, saying they did not relate to train safety and could arbitrarily cost experienced crew members their jobs.

Under the changes announced Thursday, existing employees of the departing contractor, Connex Railroad, who plan to stay on with the new operator would not be automatically disqualified if they fail the tests, said Southern California Regional Rail Authority board chairman Keith Millhouse. Instead, they will be given additional training and testing, he said.

 A spokesman for the engineers' union said he had not seen the details of the proposal. But the changes are encouraging and the union will meet with Metrolink officials to try to settle the dispute, said Tim Smith, California legislative chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. 

"It is our shared goal, as partners in safety and service with Amtrak and the labor unions, to make certain that we have the most qualified pool of employees safely operating our trains," said John E. Fenton, Metrolink's chief executive.

--Rich Connell