Our hearts certainly go out to the victims of yesterday afternoon’s Metrolink commuter train crash in Los Angeles. The passenger train crashed into a Union Pacific freight hauler due to the Metrolink conductor’s disregard for a red signal. While a tragedy is a tragedy, and no amount of preperation can really prevent all accidents (especially when human negligence comes into play), it’s worth looking a little deeper into the crash and what it says about passenger rail.
Human error is a hard factor to account for, but many rail systems across the world (including places in the United States) have technology implemented to prevent trains from passing through red signals. Those opposed to these fail safes (including many freight companies) tend to say that conductors are responsible enough to pay heed to signals on their own. Unfortunately, this tends to not always be the case. Humans err, and to not notice the signal is just as dangerous as to purposefully ignore it.
Of course, it’s not like rail companies or municipalities always have the money to implement technology like this. The tracks this accident occurred on belonged to LA County. The amount of coordination and money involved in putting fail safes into place might not always seem to be the best use of money to cash-strapped local governments.
And what of the publicity? Metrolink might see a slight decline in ridership in the coming months.. this sort of incident and the following media attention certainly perpetuates the idea that train travel is dangerous. But would a car crash this deadly make anything more than local headlines?