Metrolink Derailment Injures 28 in Oxnard, Ventura County

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Oxnard rail crossing that was the scene of Tuesday, February 24th Metrolink derailment is the 23rd most hazardous in California, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Twenty-eight people were sent to the hospital after a Metrolink commuter train crashed with a tractor-trailer in Oxnard, Calif. on Tuesday morning. The truck driver has been arrested.

Metrolink’s investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in safety improvements after a series of deadly collisions probably reduced casualties in Tuesday’s Oxnard crash, but the accident also highlighted the limits of the ongoing campaign.

Three crash-resistant cars in Metrolink’s new $263-million fleet of state-of-the-art passenger coaches performed well in their first test involving a major crash, rail officials said.
The cars, among the first to incorporate years of accident research, have front and rear crush zones, tables that give way in a wreck, improved emergency exits, fire retardant materials and more protective seating designs.

“We’ve spent a bundle on safety,” said Richard Katz, a former state legislator and longtime Metrolink board member. “Accidents happen. When they do, we want to make sure our passengers and crews are in the safest cars and safest situations we can create.”

However, experts noted that the new cars came off the tracks, despite anti-derailing devices, and that the collision was Metrolink’s fourth serious accident involving a train pushed by a locomotive.
That widespread practice has been questioned in safety studies and lawsuits, in part because lighter, more vulnerable passenger cars, with an engineer’s station, are placed at the front of speeding trains. Late Tuesday, the Metrolink engineer at the controls before the crash was among the most seriously injured and remained in an intensive care unit.

The crash also underscored a key shortcoming of a $210-million, high-tech collision avoidance system Metrolink is testing on part of its 512-mile network.

The sophisticated system can prevent train collisions such as Metrolink’s 2008 head-on wreck in Chatsworth. But it would not have been able to detect the vehicle that was on the rails Tuesday near Oxnard, after the driver turned onto the tracks and drove about 80 feet west of the grade crossing.

Beyond technology, the location of the crash once again spotlighted a massive, costly backlog of overpass projects intended to separate rail and street traffic. The crossing near 5th Street and Rice Avenue, on a straight stretch of track where trains travel at top speeds, has a history of deadly accidents and is ranked among the two dozen most dangerous in California.

Officials said a $30-million grade separation planned for the intersection has languished awaiting state and federal funding.

The crossing is “one of thousands in Southern California, and many of them need attention,” said Moorpark Mayor Pro Tem Keith Millhouse, a Metrolink board member.