By Dan Weikel
The board of the Metrolink commuter railroad on Friday unanimously approved $1.5 million to repair dozens of passenger cars with defective parts that were discovered in the wake of last year’s fatal Oxnard crash.
Rail officials plan to reinforce the front end plows on all 57 Hyundai Rotem cab cars--passenger coaches with an engineer’s station.
One of the Hyundai cars was in the lead position of the Metrolink train that collided on Feb. 24, 2015, with a utility pickup and trailer that had strayed onto the tracks at a rail crossing just outside Oxnard. The engineer was fatally injured and 34 people were hurt in the resulting derailment.
“The repairs will bring the cab cars up to design standards and resolve the safety issues,” said Art Leahy, the chief executive of Metrolink, which serves six Southern California counties.
An internal investigation into the crash revealed that the plow of the cab car—a device that used to be called a “cow catcher,” and is designed to keep debris and wreckage from getting under train wheels—broke off in the collision.
During inspections of all the Hyundai cab cars, investigators found that the plows had defective welds and did not meet specifications for the amount of force they were supposed to withstand.
As part of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board is looking into whether the specification and manufacturing issues contributed to the derailment and severity of the crash. No conclusions have been reached yet.
Prompted by the findings of its own report, the Metrolink board decided last fall totemporarily replace the cab cars at the ends of trains with 40 freight locomotives leased for $18 million a year from the Burlington North Santa Fe Railway Co.
However, because of mechanical and operational problems, Metrolink has been slow to put the engines into service. Rail officials say that 31 to 34 BNSF engines now operate daily.
Before voting on the repair funds, board member Roxana Martinez, a Palmdale council member and alternate for L.A. County. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, questioned the lease of the freight locomotives.
Martinez asked why the cheaper option of repairing the flawed plows wasn’t raised sooner.
“The proposal with BNSF was a hasty decision. We might have had an option prior to that,” Martinez said. “This could have been addressed months ago.”
Board member Ara Najarian, a Glendale council member, agreed, saying the repair option should have been the item the board voted on last year instead of the BNSF lease.
Leahy said the lease was necessary because the flawed plows presented Metrolink with a serious safety problem that needed to be addressed immediately.
Karen Spiegel, a board member and Corona council member, defended the rental agreement as well. She said the choice at the time was whether service should be continued in light of the safety concerns.
“If there was another crash, we would have had more problems than we have today,” she said.
The approved funding will pay for a variety of repairs, including the reinforcement of plow assembly bolts, welds and brackets.
Though a timeline has not been finalized, Leahy said he hoped the work would be done by October so Metrolink can return the locomotives to BNSF and avoid another costly lease.
Follow on Twitter @LADeadline16