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Paul Kiesel
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Lax Oversight Forces Metrolink to Hire Own Crews

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From the Los Angeles Times:

In the latest fallout from last year’s Metrolink disaster, the Southern California commuter rail agency could begin directly hiring and managing its engineers and conductors next year, taking full responsibility for key tasks historically delegated to outside contractors.

The move, which officials say appears likely, comes after Metrolink’s relationship with the current provider of train crews, Connex Railroad, was soured by allegations of lax oversight. The company recently gave formal notice that it does not plan to extend its operating agreement.

The Metrolink board first raised the prospect of ending the agreement after the Chatsworth collision with a freight train, which killed 25 and injured 135.

Assuming direct control of train crews would mark a major change for Metrolink, a 17-year-old, five-county public agency that grew rapidly by relying largely on private firms for everything from maintaining rail cars to fixing signals.

But the mood shifted after the Chatsworth catastrophe, in which a Connex engineer who had been text-messaging on his cellphone drove Metrolink 111 head-on into a Union Pacific freight train. The Sept. 12 accident, which federal investigators say came after the Connex engineer ran a red light, has set off what could be one of costliest railroad liability court battles on record.

It also prompted disclosures that, in violation of safety regulations, the engineer sent and received hundreds of text messages while on duty in the days before the collision. Robert M. Sanchez, who died in the crash, also sneaked young rail enthusiasts into the control cabs of passenger trains for ride-alongs, investigators found. Metrolink ordered the removal of two company managers after the disclosures.

Connex has defended its safety and supervision record, saying it has an intensive field testing program that exceeds industry standards. In a recent letter…

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