Metrolink shows shortcomings
Posted Sept. 19, 2008
After hearing about the horrific Metrolink/freight train collision last Friday, one’s heart is full of sorrow for those involved and their loved ones.

But the second reaction, to any level-headed student, contains thoughts of crisis management ramifications and the changing reputation of Metrolink.

As more evidence is being discovered, people are justifiably becoming more angry with Metrolink’s shortcomings.

Between the negligent engineer and the lack of computer-based crisis-preventing technology, the general public might be hesitant to board a train. However, comparatively safer travel and convincing statistics might change harsh opinions in the light of the recent catastrophe.

Many naïve Americans may hear of a catastrophe and avoid use of the source, no matter how unlikely it is of happening again.

It is easy to understand the effect of this mentality on an industry facing a crisis.

Nevertheless, for planes and trains alike, the risk calculation is remarkably lower than for driving.

But once we hear a calamity as a result of human error, we cannot help but let it affect our future use of these alternate transportation outlets.

Metrolink has now suffered two news-breaking derailments in the last decade, including a crash in 2005 killing 11, resulting from a car intentionally parked on a Glendale track.

Even so, train fatalities minutely compare to the significantly higher instances of automobile fatalities, yet this does not stop one from driving.

It is hard enough to separate Californians from their cars as it is, let alone convince them to take rail when the region is in shock.

It is hard to combat feelings of hesitation with words, but the statistics tell another story.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were 3.3 train accidents per million miles traveled, resulting in 846 fatalities in 2007. This rate has decreased by 16.1 percent since 1998.

Such railroad accidents include causes ranging from technology error to pedestrians neglecting to follow rail crossing signs.

In comparison, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, found at www.bts.gov, there were more than 42,000 reported automobile fatalities in 2006.

True, there are fewer cars traveling at any point than commuter trains.

However, we are so desensitized by the “it won’t happen to me” mentality, when we drive; yet we swear off train use when an isolated crash occurs.

If statistics still are not a convincing factor to board a commuter train, perhaps the future installation of crisis preventing technology will ease pessimism.

By 2014, federal safety regulations will include higher technology from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Already implemented though not in Southern California, trains are controlled by global positioning to prevent danger.

In light of Metrolink’s desperation for heightened safety, it might even be applicable for a test installation, lowering the cost of implementing it.

Furthermore, the Metrolink is enforcing a ban on texting and cell phone use during operation hours. This same ban went into effect for automobile drivers on July 1 in an attempt to make operators more alert.

The Metrolink crash was a great tragedy, yet we should be practical and look at this case as a reason to strengthen security measures to ensure safer travel in the future.

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