Press Releases

Washington, DC – In the wake of last Friday’s rail collision in Rialto, California, between a Metrolink commuter train and a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) freight train, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to expedite implementation of collision avoidance systems.

In particular, Senator Feinstein called on the federal agency to provide Metrolink with the necessary waivers it requested on November 18 to install collision avoidance systems. Currently, Metrolink is prohibited from installing any anti-collision system unless all trains on a route use the same technology. Anti-collision systems could prevent crashes in which trains fail to stop at red light signals -- which the National Transportation Safety Board believes occurred in both the Rialto collision last Friday and the deadly Chatsworth crash on September 12.

“Federal Railroad Administration regulations should protect the safety of railroad passengers, but today they stand in the way of this safety system,” Senator Feinstein wrote in a letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman.  “In the wake of recent Metrolink accidents, I request that FRA grant an immediate, emergency waiver to the Metrolink system so that it is able to deploy safety systems unilaterally.  In this extraordinary circumstance, I do not believe Metrolink should be required to obtain the approval of freight railroads and Amtrak before moving forward.”  

A newly enacted federal rail safety law included a key safety provision, strongly advocated by Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), mandating the implementation of collision-avoidance systems on America’s major passenger, commuter and freight lines by 2015.

Following is the text of a letter sent by Senator Feinstein to FRA Administrator Boardman:

November 20, 2008

Mr. Joseph H. Boardman
Administrator
Federal Railroad Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Mr. Boardman:

I am writing to request that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) work as expeditiously as possible to provide Metrolink with the necessary waivers it requested on November 18 to install collision avoidance systems.  As you know, multiple collision avoidance systems available today would have prevented the recent Metrolink crash from occurring.  Unfortunately, FRA regulations stand in the way of Metrolink deploying these systems, and I am concerned that these regulations will delay the systems from being installed at the earliest possible date.

FRA regulation prevents Metrolink from operating collision avoidance systems unless all trains on a route use the same technology.  This regulation prevents Metrolink from utilizing train stopping technologies that are designed specifically for passenger rail instead of freight.  The regulation also prevents Metrolink from deploying safety technologies on its routes unilaterally, and would force Metrolink to foot the bill for equipping freight rail engines with safety technology in some cases.

Metrolink has requested permission to deploy the Automatic Train Stop (ATS) system, an older collision avoidance system currently operating in San Diego.  ATS is already installed, but not operating, on Metrolink trains.  Had ATS been operating on the Metrolink train in Chatsworth, the Metrolink engineer would have heard an alarm when he failed to stop at the red signal.  Had the engineer failed to respond to the alarm, Metrolink technicians believe that the system would have applied emergency brakes to the Metrolink train before the fatal crash occurred.  

Federal Railroad Administration regulations should protect the safety of railroad passengers, but today they stand in the way of this safety system.  In the wake of recent Metrolink accidents, I request that FRA grant an immediate, emergency waiver to the Metrolink system so that it is able to deploy safety systems unilaterally.  In this extraordinary circumstance, I do not believe Metrolink should be required to obtain the approval of freight railroads and Amtrak before moving forward.  

I also request that FRA convene an emergency meeting of all freight and passenger rail service providers operating in Los Angeles County in order to develop a plan for deploying comprehensive collision avoidance systems on all railroads in this region by 2012.

As you may know, I am a firm believer in the future of rail.  I understand that rail moves both people and goods in a more environmentally friendly and more cost-effective manner than most other modes of transportation.  But the future of rail rests on the safety of rail systems.  The Federal Railroad Administration has an obligation to step forward and restore the public’s trust.  I look forward to working with you in this effort.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

           
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