2009-05-01 / Community

Metrolink addressing safety concerns, local rep reports

By Joann Groff joann@theacorn.com

Keith Millhouse '(We are) watching over each and every one of the riders on the Metrolink system and doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the system is as safe as can be.' Keith Millhouse '(We are) watching over each and every one of the riders on the Metrolink system and doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the system is as safe as can be.' Nearly nine months after the Metrolink crash that left 25 dead, Moorpark City Councilmember Keith Millhouse reported that the rail system has undergone several groundbreaking safety enhancements.

On Sept. 12, Metrolink 111 ran a red light and crashed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train just after leaving the Chatsworth station. Most of the riders were residents of Simi Valley or Moorpark, the two final stops on the train's route.

Millhouse, a council member for nine years, in January was named chairman of the board of directors of Southern California Regional Rail Authority, or Metrolink. At a meeting last week, he told the Simi Valley City Council that the Metrolink board acted with "unprecedented swiftness" in making its trains safer in the days and months after the crash.

First, the board appointed a peer-review panel selected from experts around the country to do an overall analysis of the Metrolink operation. Millhouse said they were looking for "glaring deficiencies," and found none. However, the board did suggest upwards of 60 improvements.

Immediately after the crash, the board added a "second set of eyes" for trains operating on single-track systems, Millhouse said.

They also authorized inwardfacing cameras, which will be installed in early fall. Metrolink will be the first railroad in the nation to have the cameras.

"The cameras will help deter unauthorized conduct, which came to light last month at National Transportation Safety Board hearings," Millhouse said. "The text messaging and ridealongs violated every federal railroad regulation, industry standard, Metrolink policy and level of professionalism."

Evidence reviewed at NTSB hearings in early March reveal the driver of Metrolink 111, Robert M. Sanchez, allowed teenage "rail enthusiasts" to ride in the cab of the train and even man the controls.

Since the crash, Millhouse said, he's met with representatives from Connex Railroad, the company that supplies Metrolink crews, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the train engineers labor union. Everyone connected with the Metrolink system is aware there will be "severe consequences" if the policies are violated, he said.

Millhouse said he'd ridden the Metrolink 111 train many times and had a close friend critically injured in the crash.

"It was a defining public and personal event to me," Millhouse said. "I vowed to do everything within my personal power to make the rail system as safe as possible, as well as take all action humanly possible to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again."

Millhouse said Simi Valley and Moorpark were included in the sealed-corridor program, which addresses atgrade crossings throughout the Metrolink system.

The project is designed to put steps in place to prevent drivers from maneuvering around barriers.

He also worked with the Federal Railroad Administration to receive approval for a waiver of existing rules to allow the installation of a technology called automatic-train stop.

The technology, which automatically halts a train in certain situations, should be in place at 43 speed-reduction locations by the end of the year, Millhouse said.

Millhouse also touted the National Rail Safety Act, approved last year, which requires the installation of a concept called positive train control on rail systems in the United States by year 2015. Using GlobalPositioning System (GPS) technology, positive train control allows trains to receive information about their location. Millhouse has publicly committed Metrolink to having the equipment by 2012, three years ahead of what's required by the Safety Act.

Millhouse recently traveled to Washington, D.C. seeking funding for positive train control, sealed corridor projects and other safety enhancements.

Lastly, Millhouse said that this winter, Metrolink will begin to receive and place into service the most technologically advanced rail cars in the country, the first to incorporate a concept called crash energy management. The new cars, which will be placed in the front of the train set, have areas designed to absorb the force of an impact in an unoccupied area. Millhouse thanked the council members for their personal and professional support during "a very difficult time for the agency."

"(We are) watching over each and every one of the riders on the Metrolink system and doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the system is as safe as can be," he said.

Councilmember Steve Sojka acknowledged Millhouse's work as chairman.

"I just want to thank (Millhouse) for all the hard work he does on behalf of this city, as well as Moorpark," Sojka said. "We know you've put in a lot of long hours since the accident to try to improve the safety of the rail, and we appreciate that."

Return to top