L.A. train crash engineer worked for Oak Brook company

I-Team: Engineer worked for Oak Brook firm, said to run red light
As the death toll from Friday's Metrolink disaster in Los Angeles rose to at least 25, public transit agency officials admitted that their own engineer failed to stop at a red light, causing the collision.

The unidentified engineer, who died in the crash, worked for a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation which is based in west suburban Oak Brook. He was employed directly by Connex Railroad, which said it began operating Metrolink routes in 2005.

In Oak Brook, a Veolia Transportation spokeswoman issued a brief statement saying it was deeply saddened by the incident and is "fully cooperating" with investigators to find the cause.

Veolia Transportation is headquartered at 2105 Spring Road in Oak Brook. Veolia is North America's largest private transportation provider. The company offers "a complete range of transportation solutions; from commuter bus to rail; from private hire to paratransit; from bus-rapid-transit to shared ride transportation."

Veolia has more than 14,000 employees. It operates a fleet of nearly 6,500 vehicles, according to the company's Web site and operates "bus services in many states, as well as commuter trains in Boston and Los Angeles (Metrolink)."

Metrolink officials said Saturday that the engineer's failure to heed a red light signal apparently caused the catastrophic head-on crash in Chatsworth on Friday afternoon that claimed at least 25 lives and injured. 135 passengers were injured, 40 of them critically according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

The engineer had at least 10 years of previous experience working for Amtrak. The Simi Valley-bound Metrolink train he drove Friday was carrying 225 passengers when it collided with a Union Pacific freight train descending into the San Fernando Valley.

"That is what has caused so much pain," Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said. "It is your worst fear that this could happen, that the ability for human error to occur could come into the scenario."

"We want to be honest in our appraisal," Metrolink's Tyrrell somberly told reporters at the scene.

According to Metrolink, the engineer missed a stop signal shortly before the accident site. That signal was the last of three that would have warned him another train was ahead on a single stretch of track. In that area, trains going opposite directions share one set of tracks which winds through a series of narrow tunnels.

"Even if the train is on the main track, it must go through a series of signals, and each one of the signals must be obeyed," Tyrrell told reporters. "What we believe happened, barring any new information from the NTSB, is we believe that our engineer failed to stop ... and that was the cause of the accident.

Officials say there were 222 people on the Metrolink train and four Union Pacific employees aboard the freight train.

"We don't know how the error happened," she continued, "but this is what we believe happened. We believe it was our engineer who failed to stop at the signal."

"When two trains are in the same place at the same time, somebody's made a terrible mistake," she said.

She said she didn't know if the engineer ever had any previous problems operating trains or had any disciplinary issues.

Metrolink's unusually brisk proclamation of blame as the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies were just beginning their investigations. Saturday afternoon, NTSB officials said they were reserving judgment on the cause of the collision.

Authorities have recovered the two data recorders from the Metrolink train and one data recorder and one video recorder from the freight train. The video has pictures from forward-looking cameras and the data recorders have information on speed, braking patterns and whether the horn was used.

"The signals might not have been working" properly, said Frank N. Wilner of the United Transportation Union which represents 125,000 rail workers -- though not those who work for Metrolink. "We don't know if there was glare, or if he succumbed to a heart attack or a stroke," Wilner said

A Los Angeles radio station reported Saturday that several teenage train aficionados said they had received a text message from the engineer shortly before the crash. Federal investigators said they were treating the report with caution because similar text message stories had circulated after a crash in Boston but were found to be untrue.

Friday's accident is the worst rail tragedy in the U.S. since March 15, 1999 when an Amtrak train hit a tractor trailer and derailed in far south suburban Bourbonnais. Eleven people were killed, and more than 100 were injured.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report).

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