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L.A. council wants review of contractor linked to Chatsworth crash

October 24, 2012 |  3:33 pm

Rescue workers extract victims from the Chatsworth Metrolink crash in 2008. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
After hearing from victims of the deadly Metrolink crash in Chatsworth, the Los Angeles City Council vowed Wednesday to look into a $160-million city contract awarded to a transportation company linked to the rail disaster that killed 25 people.

Council members said they would direct the city's Department of Transportation to review the contract given earlier this month to Veolia Transportation Inc. to operate part of the city’s popular DASH shuttle bus system.

The company is a subsidiary of Veolia Environment, an international conglomerate that owned Connex, a railroad management firm that supplied engineers to the Metrolink commuter service. Connex was a division of Veolia Transportation.

Federal investigators blamed the September 2008 crash on a Connex engineer who was texting on his cellphone and failed to heed a stop signal while departing from the Chatsworth station. The commuter train subsequently hit a freight train head on. Questions were also raised about the adequacy of the company’s supervision and enforcement of safety rules.

Veolia Transportation asserts that safety is a top priority, and attorneys for the parent company contend there is no evidence that Connex failed to adequately oversee Metrolink train crews.

Two of the 135 people injured in the crash and two relatives of others who were hurt asked the council to reconsider the contract or closely monitor Veolia’s operation of the DASH system.

“They are not concerned about public safety. There is evidence that they have been negligent,” said Nanci Paulson of Camarillo, whose husband Jim received serious head injuries in the crash. “If you can’t do anything about the contract, please keep an eye on them.”

Meanwhile, insurance underwriters at Lloyd’s of London have sued Veolia Transportation and Connex in Los Angeles County Superior Court to recover $132.5 million in insurance payments that went to the victims and their families.

Filed earlier this month, the lawsuit alleges that between September 2006 and a month before the crash, Connex officials saw company engineers on at least seven occasions using cellphones on duty and in violation of the rules. No action was taken, court papers state, nor were the incidents reported to Metrolink in order to avoid fines of up to $25,000 per occurrence.

The underwriters also claim that Connex did nothing after a conductor notified company officials that he saw Robert Sanchez, the engineer who was blamed for the Chatsworth crash, using a cellphone a month before the disaster.  

“In addition to concealing such information from Metrolink, Connex failed to take action to ensure that such dangerous, wrongful and reckless conduct was stopped immediately so that the safety of Connex employees, Metrolink passengers and the public at large would be protected,” the lawsuit states.


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Photo: Rescue workers extract victims from the wreckage in Chatsworth in 2008. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times