Metrolink crash could have been lessened, BLET says

A Metrolink commuter train crash that killed 11 people and injured more that 200 could have been lessened -- or possibly avoided altogether -- had the railroad operated its trains according to BLET recommendations.

The accident happened just outside Los Angeles on January 26. The train's locomotive was behind the train in a "push" mode, so that a lightweight "cab/car" passenger car was at the point of movement.

The accident occurred when a suicidal man parked his sport utility vehicle on the tracks, but changed his mind about killing himself and bailed out of the SUV prior to impact. (According to reports, one of the vehicle's tires became wedged, which is why the man jumped out of the vehicle instead of driving away.)

The SUV derailed the cab/car and caused an accordion effect, derailing most of the remaining passenger cars. The cars sidwswiped and derailed another Metrolink train passing in the opposite direction, and caused the derailment of an empty Union Pacific work train in a nearby siding.

Timothy Smith, Chairman of the BLET's California State Legislative Board, learned of the horrific accident at his office in Auburn, Calif., where he had just documented - again - the Brotherhood's opposition to the push/pull system used by Metrolink.

In meetings and in letters with management of Amtrak and Metrolink, as well as with the Federal Railroad Administration, the BLET had repeatedly warned that potentially deadly accidents could be caused by using lightweight cab/cars and passenger cars at the point of movement.

"Had there been a locomotive at the point of movement, this catastrophe would have probably been avoided," Brother Smith said. "The heavier locomotive would had pushed the SUV aside and/or reduced the scale of the derailment significantly."

Instead, 11 people are dead, and Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, Calif. - the driver of the SUV - will be charged with 11 counts of homicide and could face the death penalty. He stood by as the southbound Metrolink train struck his vehicle, derailed and hit the northbound train. It also appeared that he attempted to slash his wrists and stab himself, according to reports.

Among those killed in the crash was Thomas Ormiston, 58, a conductor on one of the trains and a member of the United Transportation Union, as well as James Tutino, 47, a California sheriff's deputy.

The BLET's Safety Task Force was dispatched to the scene of the accident and has been an integral part of the National Transportation Safety Board's ongoing investigation.



© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen