Politics

Metrolink trains have anti-crash system Philadelphia trains lacked

Metrolink trains like this one at Los Angeles Union Station should be using a new safety system known as positive train control by the end of 2015, officials say.
Metrolink trains like this one at Los Angeles Union Station should be using a new safety system known as positive train control by the end of 2015, officials say.
File photo by Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Last week's fatal train wreck in Philadelphia renewed debate in Congress over how soon to require railroads to install a new safety system, but at Southern California's Metrolink, there's no debate: Officials said they're on track to install a $216.3 million "positive train control" system by the end of this year.

After a fatal Metrolink crash in Chatsworth in 2008, Congress ordered railroads to install the systems by the end of this year. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is among those calling for for Congress to stick to the 2015 deadline.

But the complexity of creating the systems has some railroads saying they can't move that fast. Some are lobbying to extend the deadline. Before last week's crash, a senate bill had been introduced proposing to put off the installation deadline to 2020.

The system uses GPS satellite data and radio frequencies to automatically override the train controls if an engineer isn't driving safely.

Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten say Metrolink is on track to be first in the nation to have it installed on all seven of its train lines.

"Our goal all along has been to make sure we met the December 2015 deadline," he said.

Positive train control is being used on passenger trains on the Ventura, San Bernardino, and Antelope Valley lines. The railroad operates trains in six Southern California counties.

At Los Angeles Union Station, Glendale resident Stephan Safarloo was about to head home on Metrolink's Ventura line. He said he felt safe on the train, but didn't even know it had positive train control.

"I've heard the term," Safarloo said. "I am not exactly sure what it does."

Four other lines are being tested or are in line to be tested soon and to be using the system with passengers aboard by early fall, Lustgarten said. The tests are done at night in simulations on empty trains. Engineers are also being trained on the systems.

The process wasn't completely smooth. Early last year, Metrolink had to replace a subcontractor assigned to write the system's dispatching software, Lustgarten said.