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Metrolink Crash Lawsuits Filed - Parker Waichman LLP

Dec 31, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Following the fatal Metrolink train crash that killed 25 people and injured 138, seven lawsuits have been filed.  Officials said 220 people were aboard the commuter train on September 13, which was heading from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Ventura County, when it ran head-on into a Union Pacific freight train traveling in the opposite direction.  According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Metrolink train’s engineer failed to stop at the final red signal, which forced the train onto a track where the Union Pacific freight was traveling.

KeyT3 reported that the seven lawsuits were filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the victims of the deadly September 12 Metrolink collision.  Two lawsuits allege negligence and wrongful death and seek unspecified damages, said KeyT3, which reported that two lawsuits name the following defendants:  The regional rail authority that operates Metrolink, several contract companies, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  The other suits, which seek a jury trial and general damages, name Connex Railroad—a contractor that provides engineers who run the Metrolink trains—as well as Veolia Transportation—Connex’s parent company—and the train engineer’s estate.

Federal investigators confirmed the engineer was texting on his cellphone seconds before the crash.  The last message the engineer received was at 4:21:03, more than one minute prior to impact; the final message he sent was at 4:22:01, just 22 seconds before the trains collided.  Both trains were traveling at about 40 miles an hour.

Following the tragedy, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued an emergency order prohibiting all train operators from using cell phones while on duty.  And, while the rule was issued in October, it comes years after the FRA first considered the matter, two weeks after the California Public Utilities Commission imposed the same restriction, and one day after the NTSB issued a preliminary report saying text messages were sent and received by Metrolink engineer Robert M. Sanchez's cell phone in the moments before his commuter train collided with the Union Pacific freight train.  The FRA’s emergency order also contains a list of recent train accidents that involved cell phone use including one accident that occurred over the summer when a Union Pacific brakeman walked across tracks while talking on his cell phone; he was struck and killed by a train.  Another accident involved a 2006 head-on collision in Texas between two Union Pacific freight trains.  In that case, the FRA later determined that the engineer was talking on his phone and not paying attention.

Of note, the Senate recently approved—in a 74 to 24 vote—a rail-safety bill sponsored by California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. The bill was approved in the House and requires major railroad and commuter lines to install collision avoidance systems, including automatic braking, by December 31, 2015.  The last time Congress addressed railroad safety was in 1994, when it passed the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act, but that law expired in 1998.  Critics say Congress has neglected railroad safety and that the FRA has been less-than enthusiastic about new reforms and is deferential to industry.

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