Metrolink shifts train operations to Amtrak

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A Metrolink passenger train car arrives at the downtown Riverside station.

Metrolink’s Board of Directors gave its final approval Friday to fare hikes that’ll go into effect July 1. On Saturday, the engineers and crews operating Metrolink trains become employees of Amtrak.

When Metrolink trains started rolling in the Southland 18 years ago, Amtrak managed the crews and engineers. Five years ago, Metrolink decided to roll with transportation giant Connex. But in September of 2008, a Metrolink train crashed into a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, and the collision killed 25 people.

The engineer on the Metrolink frain — found to be texting frequently — was a Connex employee. So Metrolink is back with Amtrak. Metrolink Board Member Richard Katz says passengers shouldn’t expect to see many different engineers and crew members.

"The vast majority will be the same, but in different circumstances," Katz told KPCC. "Because the operator pool of train engineers around the country is pretty limited, there aren’t an extra couple hundred or couple thousand engineers just waiting for a new railroad to pick ’em up."

Katz says all engineers had to take refresher courses, and the new contract with Amtrak gives new authority to Metrolink staff to test engineers more often and to conduct surprise in-cab inspections.

"There are operators that will not be allowed back on the Metrolink system. It’s all part of our, as our new CEO John Fenton’s been putting it, new drive toward excellence.”

Metrolink’s also installed inward and outward facing cameras in the engineer cabs of its trains. The system’s also begun to add more than 100 new rail cars outfitted with new crash management technology.

Also on Friday, the Metrolink board gave its final approval to fare hikes that’ll go into effect July 1. The average increase will be 6 percent — about 33 cents per trip for all of the various types of tickets the commuter rail operator sells.

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