Deadly Train Collision

The Orange County based Law Firm of Aitken * Aitken * Cohn has filed complaints to commence formal litigation on behalf of 19 individuals who were significantly injured in the deadly train collision between a Metrolink Commuter Train and a Burlington Northern freight train which occurred on April 23, 2002, in Placentia, California.

The lawsuits name as defendants both Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Metrolink (as well as the individual conductors/engineers of those trains). The allegations indicate that the Burlington Northern train accelerated to speeds upwards of 48 miles per hour, despite the presence of at least one warning signal that should have caused the conductor to slow the train. More importantly, however, the lawsuits fault both Metrolink and Burlington — pointing toward a systemwide problem that allowed two trains to end up on the same track at the same time — with deadly results. The attorney for the victims of this mishap, Wylie Aitken, states that his clients are seeking punitive damages: “Our initial investigation indicates a system set up to inevitably fail, and which the operators of this railroad both knew and/or should have known posed a tremendous danger to the public day in and day out. It was only a matter of time until an incident like this occurred, and they consciously disregarded the danger, and failed to implement changes which simply would have prevented this from ever occurring. Both Burlington and Metrolink are at fault.”

The investigative information thus far released publicly indicates that several factors are involved in setting up the incident, including (but not necessarily limited to):

  • Burlington operated the train at excessive speeds;
  • The railroad’s signal warning system was inadequate for safe travel;

The statements apparently made by Burlington’s operator that the “sun was in his eyes” (causing him not to see the warning light) only underscore and further reveal a flawed system where a small and instantaneous human error sets up devastating consequences.

Burlington and Metrolink long knew (and must have known) of safer control mechanisms and monitoring systems (including automated banking systems) but failed to install them, placing company profit over public safety every single day.

The increased rail traffic in recent years, including the introduction of Metrolink lines in the 1990”s and an increase in operation by Burlington Northern as well, has set up a system with an increasingly narrow margin of error — but still heavily reliant on unchecked human judgment. Both Metrolink and Burlington were and are well aware of the problem.

The danger posed by this seriously flawed system has been long known and unaddressed, even despite a prior crash between Metrolink and Burlington Northern trains in Fullerton in 1999.

Without a safer system in place, the wisdom of placing passenger and freight trains on the same shared track has been called into question by numerous individuals and officials within the railroad industry.

What people have not yet been publicly discussing, however, is Aitken’s suspicion that there have undoubtedly been numerous close calls that have gone unreported. “We intend to investigate the extent of this systemwide failure. It is time to put safety first for the good of the public,” stated Aitken.

Aitken stated that his firm would also be investigating the failure of the Federal Railroad Administration to address this long-standing, well-known problem despite its mandate to implement safety rules, and its apparent legal authority to have mandated collision-avoidance systems and technology that has been available for over two decades.

For more information contact Wylie Aitken at 714-434-1424.