Safety of Southern California's New Metrolink Cab Cars Questioned

After a February Metrolink commuter train crash in Oxnard, Calif., train officials hailed the new Korean rail cars as having performed well. Now they have expressed second thoughts, and are replacing the front cab cars with BNSF locomotives.

2 minute read

September 8, 2015, 8:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Officials of Southern California's 388-mile commuter rail line, Metrolink, were counting on their new Hyundai Rotem Co rail cars, manufactured in South Korea, to be safer than the Bombardier cars they replaced. After a Feb. 24 crash in Oxnard that derailed all four cars, injured 27, and killed the engineer, they have taken one type of the new cars out of service, notwithstanding the positive comments they made about the crashworthiness of the cars immediately after the incident.

"Now, however, Metrolink is trying to determine whether a design flaw in one of the state-of-the-art cars played a role in derailing the train," writes Dan Weikel for the Los Angeles Times. "On (Sept. 3), railroad officials announced that they will restrict the use of 57 of the new passenger cars that have control cabs for engineers and operate at the front of trains when they are being pushed from behind by locomotive."

Weikel is describing the "push-pull" operation of many commuter rail lines, where a locomotive pulls the train in one direction, and then the train reverses direction without changing the placement of the locomotive. The locomotive then pushes the train while a control cab, or cab car (see photo), as it is often called, allows an engineer to control the train from the lead car, which also carries passengers.

It was a new Hyundai Rotem cab car, not a locomotive, that hit a truck on the tracks in Oxnard on Feb. 24, and notwithstanding its new design, derailment, injuries, and death followed.

"We are taking this additional step as a redundancy to keep our riders safe," said Metrolink Chief Executive Art Leahy, referring to the replacement of cab cars with locomotives, thus temporarily ending push-pull operation. The cab cars will be utilized as coach cars.

Weikel goes on on to describe the part of the cab car that is being investigated. The freight locomotives will be in operation for a year during the investigation.

On September 12, 2008, 25 people died in a Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth (posted here). The February 24 crash with a truck that had turned onto the tracks is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Thursday, September 3, 2015 in Los Angeles Times

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