Metrolink chugs ahead with crash technology

first_imgPartly in response to this year’s fatal crash in Glendale, Metrolink will be the first commuter rail system nationwide to use technology on cab cars designed to reduce the severity of collisions – technology that could become required for all commuter trains. The technology, known as crash-energy management, is designed to spread the force of a crash throughout the train so the front of the cab car doesn’t absorb the brunt of the impact. Transportation officials said they believe it will prevent passenger injuries and reduce derailments. “It’s like giant shock absorbers,” Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said. Metrolink will begin selecting new cars in January, but with the new system still in the testing phase, it could be years before crash-energy-management-enabled cars hit the tracks, Tyrrell said. Metrolink will buy more than 40 new cab cars, replacing its entire fleet. Each car could cost between $2 million and $3 million, Tyrrell said. The FRA has been studying crash-energy management since 2003 and already has staged five test crashes. In the tests, a cab car using conventional equipment crumpled more than 20 feet – well into the passenger section of the car. A cab car using the new system crumpled just 3 feet, Kulm said. The system includes four components designed to increase passenger safety – a connector that recedes into the train to help prevent derailments, structural changes designed to act like a car’s bumper and strengthen the front of the car, and energy absorbers that create crush zones away from passenger areas. “It doesn’t sound like a radical change, but that’s the way lasting improvements are made,” said James E. Moore, a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Southern California. “Those are four changes that are fairly consistent with general practice and conventional wisdom. They are more likely to produce no change or make things better. My guess would be that this would produce a more crash-worthy vehicle.” But some critics don’t think the move will solve the biggest problem of push-pull systems – that the light cab car is easily derailed in crashes. “They’re going to have to do more than that,” said Richard Beall, an engineer with the South Florida Rail Transit Authority and a railroad safety consultant. The FRA needs to make the entire front end of the car more rigid and heavier, similar to a locomotive, he said. “The problem with the FRA, it’s kind of like the fox watching the chicken coop,” he said. “They want push-pull to work. They absolutely want it to work.” Since the January crash, Metrolink has made several moves to bolster safety, including closing off the mezzanine level of cab cars, where most of the victims in the Glendale crash were sitting. Officials stress that crash-energy management is not a complete solution. Improvements to the interior of the car, including collapsible tables and compartmentalized seating, and improvements to the track corridor – fencing or grade separation – are also necessary. “It doesn’t bulletproof the train,” Tyrrell said. “We still require that people not drive on the right of way and not race the crossing arms.” But railroad passenger associations insist trains are safe as is and that the upgrades to the cab cars are unnecessary. “I’m sure they’re dusting some things off, and it probably will be better than it is,” said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passenger Association of California, a nonprofit group that works with other rail advocacy groups to expand rail passenger service. “But all this hollering and screaming about the coffin car in front, it’s a bunch of hyperbole. They’re trying to address this in a politically correct way.” Josh Kleinbaum, (818) 713-3669 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Officials said they believe the system will add protection for trains that use the controversial push-pull method, in which the train is pulled by a locomotive in one direction but pushed by the locomotive in the opposite direction. Although railroad officials believe the push-pull method is safe, critics argue that a cab car in the front of the train is more likely to derail than a locomotive. Those critics were vocal in January when a Metrolink train being pushed from behind collided with a sport-utility vehicle left on the tracks in Glendale, killing 11 people, Metrolink’s deadliest crash. “An experience like that makes you look at everything,” Tyrrell said. The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to approve the technology in early 2006 and could require commuter railroad trains to incorporate it. “What we are intending to do with crash-energy management is to improve the overall passenger rail safety regardless if it’s operating in push or pull mode,” FRA spokesman Steve Kulm said. “It has certain benefits for push operations, but the benefits are good for pull operations as well. Even if it’s in pull mode, it could be struck from the rear.” last_img

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