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Barbara Boxer

Boxer Reminds Metrolink: Train Crew Members Shouldn’t Ride Solo

5:37 PM EDT on September 18, 2009

The transportation spending bill passed by the Senate this week includes $50 million in rail safety grants sought in June by environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) -- but the bill may not become law for months, and today Boxer told California's Metrolink commuter rail that interim safety protections would have to stay in place.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Metrolink crash that left 25 people dead and prompted a federal mandate to install the safety monitoring system known as "positive train control" on all commuter rail systems. The accident also helped advance the push for a national ban on on texting while driving, the activity that was found to contribute to the accident. 

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times found that while Metrolink was making progress on some of the changes its officials vowed to make in the wake of the crash, other promises remained unfulfilled. In a letter sent today to Metrolink chairman Keith Millhouse, Boxer said she "was pleased" when the rail network started adding a second crew member to train operating teams, adding: "As we work together to ensure that positive train control is implemented as quickly as possible, safety must not be compromised in the interim."

This week's transportation spending bill also includes $500,000 Boxer set aside for Metrolink to help pay for installation of "positive train control," a computer-based system that helps prevent crashes by automatically detecting when two trains travel too close to one another.

The senator's full letter to Millhouse follows after the jump.

September 18, 2009   Keith Millhouse Chairman Metrolink   Dear Chairman Millhouse:   I am deeply concerned that on average, 87 percent of Metrolink trains operate without a second crew member in the train cab.  While I recognize that Metrolink is moving forward with the installation of cameras in its train cabs, I continue to believe that a second crew member in the cab is an essential interim safety measure that must be employed.  One year after the tragic Chatsworth crash that killed 25 people and injured 135 more, we cannot afford to undermine steps we have taken to improve the safety of commuter rail.   Last September, I chaired a briefing for Senators on the cause of the Metrolink tragedy.  I requested that interim safety measures be immediately implemented in the absence of the installation of positive train control. Former Metrolink Chairman Ron Roberts pledged at that briefing to add an extra crew member in the train cabs to act as an “extra set of eyes” to prevent another tragedy. I was pleased when Metrolink began to follow through on that pledge.   While I understand the challenges facing commuter rail in this difficult economy, safety must continue to be the top priority. As we work together to ensure that positive train control is implemented as quickly as possible, safety must not be compromised in the interim.   Thank you for your attention to this critical matter and I look forward to your response.                                                                                                   Sincerely,   Barbara Boxer United States Senator

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