New Metrolink rail cars designed to protect riders from impact of crashes

Metrolink's new train cars on Pier F at the Port of Long Beach.
Metrolink's new train cars on Pier F at the Port of Long Beach.
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Metrolink invited reporters to a show and tell Tuesday at the Port of Long Beach. Officials with the commuter rail service displayed new rail cars designed to increase rider safety, and described what other precautions they plan to put in place.

Two state-of-the-art train cars, still shrink-wrapped in plastic, sat on Pier F. Metrolink Board Chairman Keith Millhouse explained that they’re the first commuter rail cars in the country outfitted with a new technology called Crash Energy Management that directs a collision’s impact away from riders.

"It provides, in essence, a crumple zone where the energy is absorbed that protects the crew members and the passengers from injury," said Millhouse. "I liken the arrival of these cars from a technological transformation standpoint to the automobile evolving from decorative chrome bumpers into the sophisticated crumple zones and energy absorbing bumpers you see on vehicles today."

The South Korean company Hyundai Rotem is manufacturing 117 of the new cars for Metrolink.

"Operating the most densely congested system in the country, unfortunately, you have people that do dumb things around rail crossings," said Millhouse. "If a vehicle gets on a crossing, we want to insure that our passengers and our crew are protected."

Metrolink and its riders have endured some human actions that compromised safety in the five years since the agency ordered the new rail cars.

Two crashes — in Glendale in 2005 and in Chatsworth in 2008 — have killed 36 people. The first collision involved an SUV on the railroad tracks; the other, a train engineer texting on his cell phone. Keith Millhouse of the Metrolink board says the new train cars are essential to the rail system’s safety overhaul.

"What we’ve tried to do is institute a comprehensive measure of safety components throughout the Metrolink system and build in redundancies."

The most visible of those components so far, Millhouse said, are the inward-facing cameras to monitor engineers in the train cabs. In two years, Metrolink plans to install positive train control — a satellite-based system that can stop a train remotely during an emergency.