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First Lawsuit Filed in Metrolink Train Collision

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:07 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Train Accidents, Trail and Railroad Accidents, Wrongful Death, Negligence, Mass Transit

First lawsuit filed in metrolink commuter crash



IMAGE SOURCE: Aida Magdaleno/ Courtesy Kiesel, Boucher, Larson  


The first lawsuit has been filed in connection with the Metrolink collision last Friday, the deadliest in the U.S. in 15 years.

25 people were killed and 138 injured when a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train. The commuter had picked up passengers from the suburban Los Angeles area of Chatsworth.

Paul Kiesel of Kiesel, Boucher & Larson, Beverly Hills on Monday filed the first claim against Metrolink on behalf of the parents of Aida Magdaleno, Juvenal and Leticia Magdaleno.

The 19-year-old sophomore at California State University, Northridge, (CSUN), was the youngest of five children who wanted to be a social worker.

The blue-eyed, ambitious A-student never stopped dreaming or setting higher goals for herself, her sister, Gabriella said.

“We don’t want her needless death to have been in vain,” her brother Juan Magdaleno said of his sister, Aida.

Kiesel says her family wanted to get the issue of train safety before the public, specifically the technology that serves as a backup to engineer controls.   

“The positive train control system would have prevented her death,” Kiesel tells IB News.  “It would have slowed the train down and taken the human element out of it.” 

The system automatically overrides errors made by human rail employees, but with a two billion dollar price tag, it has been considered too expensive and in some cases, not reliable. 

Kiesel says that Metrolink should have long ago installed positive train control technology, alleging the agency chose not to use the feature needed to protect Southern California rail commuters. With it, there is no question the accident would not have occured. 

“California requires rail carriers like Metrolink to use the utmost care and diligence to protect the public, and Metrolink must finally do the responsible thing and install existing positive train controls to help prevent this from ever happening again" Kiesel said.  

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California wants to know if new safety technology would have prevented the accident and is calling on a congressional investigation.

The Magdaleno’s action may be the first of a critical mass that forces changes on Metrolink.

Railroad industry representatives say that the reason positive train control isn't widely used is because of its "high costs." But Barry Sweedler, a retired senior director of the NTSB, tells the Los Angeles Times that the railroad industry has used the same financial and technical excuses for decades to avoid paying for the systems.

"In Alaska they are installing it. It operates on the Northeast corridor. It operates between Chicago and Detroit. The systems work," he said.

Sweedler blamed the lack of progress on political pressure brought by railroads on Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration, something railroad officials deny.

"What they are saying is that they are willing to accept a certain number of these tragedies every year," Sweedler said. "This doesn't make any sense. Let's put some backbone into this. There is so much that can be achieved."

The Metrolink, which carried 220 people rolled past the red light at 42 miles per hour, coming onto a track where a Union Pacific freight train was heading toward it. 

Metrolink points to the failure of the engineer, Robert Sanchez, for not stopping at a red light signal. Teenage train buff friends say they received a text message from Sanchez minutes before the crash, though a cell phone was not found in the wreckage.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s Kitty Higgins told NPR her agency wants to look at the cell phone records of the engineer.

Higgins also says that an inspection of the train signals showed they were working properly and there were no obstructions in front of the red light. "The question is did he see it as red?" Higgins said. "Did he see it as something else? Did he see it at all?"

While cell phone records are being accessed, an emergency order has been issued that bans train operators from using cell phones or texting while on the job.   

In 2003, the NTSB recommended that cell phone use by railroad employees be regulated while they are on the job after a 2002 head-on collision between two freight trains head-on near Clarendon, Texas.

Meanwhile a Web site has been set up for friends of Aida to add their condolences.

She's very outgoing, intelligent, and the first generation to go to the university. She was very caring, loving, and dedicated to the family. She seemed to appreciate our parents, all their hard work in the fields. She was a great person, a great person”

— Juan Magdelano, brother, to the Daily News


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