Apr 29, 2002
Two people were killed and over 200 injured in the April 23 crash between a commuter train and a freight train near Los Angeles. The mile-long freight train, pulled by three huge locomotives, slammed into a small commuter train.
Apparently, the signals were working properly. The freight train passed a yellow warning signal without slowing. The engineer said he didn’t see the yellow signal because of the sun in his eyes. In any case, the train did not begin to brake until it came to a red stop signal. By that time, it was too late to avoid the collision.
The freight train had only an engineer and a conductor aboard – only two crewman for a 67-car train about a mile long! And both had been working a ridiculous schedule. Leading up to the crash, the conductor had worked 20 out of the last 39 hours. The engineer had worked 17 out of the last 34 hours. Their current shift had started at 2:30 in the morning. The train itself had left 5 hours late because of a “scheduling problem,” which pushed the crew to make up the time.
This almost non-existent crew and impossible schedule are normal on most freight trains today – the result of repeated cutbacks in crew sizes that were carried out over the years under the guise of eliminating “feather-bedding.”
The elimination of so-called “feather-bedding” was in fact an elimination of safety precautions. We see one result of that in today’s crash. Another result was the gobbling up of additional profits by the railroads over the years.