LOS ANGELES, CA –– The train accident on September 12 in the Chatsworth neighborhood of Los Angeles, in which 25 people died and over 125 were seriously injured, was totally preventable. The press has blamed the engineer, Robert Sanchez, for text messaging someone just before the accident, but this tragedy was caused by the greed of the bosses, their politicians, and their anti-worker capitalist system!
In this case a MetroLink commuter train collided head on with a Union Pacific freight train sharing the same track.
Yes, sharing the same track. Imagine driving on a one lane highway in which cars, trucks, and buses traveled at freeway speeds in both directions, but had to share that one lane. Furthermore, the only way a driver would ever know that an 18-wheeler was heading towards him or her was a stoplight. If it is red, drivers must get their car off the road. If it is green, just drive ahead on that one-lane highway.
This lunacy is the deliberate policy of the MetroLink Authority –– mostly appointees of local Southern California Democratic politicians –– which runs the Los Angeles area commuter train system. Their patchwork commuter system is woefully under-funded and run with callous disregard for the safety of passengers and MetroLink workers. And, to save a few bucks, MetroLink contracted with a French company to operate the system, including hiring workers.
Since these totally avoidable deaths, many people have pointed out the obvious fixes to avoid future accidents. First, the train system needs to be double-tracked; trains traveling in opposite directions would no longer share the same track. Second, all trains should be equipped with Positive Train Control. This is an electronic system widely used throughout the world which detects trains headed for a collision and automatically stops them.
New radios should be installed on local freight and commuter trains. Because MetroLink shares train tracks with freight trains and because passenger trains and freight trains use different radio frequencies, engineers are unable to communicate between the two systems.
Split shifts could be eliminated. The MetroLink engineer, who died in the accident, worked a 13- hour day. He worked the morning rush hour, then had the mid-day off, but had to report to work again for the afternoon rush hour. In addition to having such an unsafe work schedule all week, engineers have no back-up. MetroLink operates their trains with only one engineer, not two. If an engineer is sick, distracted, or misses one of those red lights, that’s it. No one else, and no safety feature, is there to back him up or catch his mistakes.
So far, after an enormous public outcry, the local and national politicians –– who are responsible –– have moved into inaction. Locally, California Public Utilities Commission directed rail companies to ban train employees from using cell phones while on duty.
Nationally, proposed legislation would reduce the number of hours railroad employees can work from 400 per month to 276. Workers can now work 90-hour weeks, but the new legislation would reduce their work-week to about 60 hours — still unsafe. In contrast, the FAA limits airline pilots to 100 hours of flight time per month, a 22-hour work- week.
As for Positive Train Control, current proposed legislation would not require these electronic safety systems until the year 2015. The bosses’ foot-dragging will lead to more people dying unnecessarily in the next decade because of this total disregard for the workers.
At a time when the Federal Government is spending about $1 trillion to bail out the banks and finance companies, spends more than $1.1 trillion per year on its military and spy agencies, and the lion’s share of local government budgets is devoted to cops and jails, the “no-money” argument of the politicians reveals that capitalism serves only the interests of the capitalists — at the expense of workers’ lives.
Workers and passengers are cogs in a giant capitalist machine devoted to squeezing every last ounce of profit out of the commuter train system. The bosses are sacrificing the safety and lives of the workers riding the trains (and transit workers) to bail out the banks, pay for imperialist war and line their pockets.
Only when workers take power will our safety and lives be more important than the dollar-bill flag of the bosses. A system that cannot provide safe transit is one more reason to join the fight for communist revolution!