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Judge throws out challenge to Metrolink cameras that monitor engineers

June 30, 2010 |  4:44 pm

Metrolink’s use of video surveillance cameras in the control cabs of its passenger trains has survived a federal court challenge from a union representing locomotive engineers.

In a case closely watched within the rail industry, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson in Los Angeles dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming the Southern California commuter rail agency violated employees' rights by installing cameras to monitor train engineer activities.

The cameras were placed in both locomotive and passenger car control areas after the 2008 Chatsworth train disaster. Twenty-five people died and more than 100 passengers were injured in that crash when an outbound Metrolink train slammed head on into a freight train. 

The Metrolink engineer, who worked for a contractor, had been distracted by text messaging and ran a red light just before the collision, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB has called for all passenger rail systems to install video systems similar to Metrolink's.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen sued Metrolink in both state and federal court, alleging that the rail agency exceeded its authority and failed to properly negotiate workplace changes. The union also alleged that Metrolink improperly trod into federal regulatory jurisdiction.

But Anderson tossed out the entire lawsuit, finding that engineers retained disciplinary procedural rights and that the union failed to prove violations of federal regulations. The state court case is continuing.

Union officials were reviewing Wednesday’s decision and declined to comment or say whether an appeal was likely.

Metrolink board Chairman Keith Millhouse, an attorney, said the decision was legally sound and a boost to efforts to upgrade safety on the five-county rail system.     

“The cameras are critical to making sure there are no rule violations in the cab area,” he said. He said he hoped the ruling ends the legal battle over the cameras.

“I think they lose from a legal standpoint, but also from a public perception standpoint. And I don’t think they want to do that,” he said.

--Rich Connell