More Palin/library talk in a new NY Times story

Alfred caught this and mentioned it to me — it’s on the third page of the article. To quote the relevant section:

For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin’s predecessor. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

….in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

Two things to note, briefly:

1) This could potentially be the explanation of the discrepancy I mentioned in the previous post — Emmons referring to an incident when Palin was still a councilwoman but no specific book challenge presented during that time period in the city’s accounting of such things. It’s still somewhat vague, though, and the implication here is that Palin herself had a direct concern where the Frontiersman story refers to some other challenge.

Regardless, the basic attitude shown by Palin here is not exactly pretty, setting aside whatever moral issues the book itself argues over (you can probably guess where I stand). Contrast this with the statement on censorship from the Wasilla city government which I’ve referred to a couple of times now — to quote a key section:

Many books are controversial and any given item may offend some persons. However, selections for this library will not be made on the basis of anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the merits of the material in relation to the building of the collection and to serving the interests of all readers. This library holds censorship to be a purely individual matter and declares that – while anyone is free to reject for himself books and other materials of which he does not approve – he cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others.

Apparently Palin believes this might not always apply, though.

2. The ‘Ms. Chase’ referred to in the story is Laura Chase — and as the story describes her earlier, she was “the campaign manager during Ms. Palin’s first run for mayor in 1996.” Therefore, not exactly an enemy or opponent, clearly Palin and Chase already had a friendship in place beforehand, thus this book discussion incident.

The implication is somewhat obvious, given what I’ve quoted — if one’s own former *campaign manager* can mix pride with flatly stating one is a frightening person, it might be hoped one would want to maybe take a few things on board about oneself.

Wouldn’t one?

The rest of the story is well worth reading on other fronts. Personally I’d say if Palin has an assistant who calls around and bugs opposing bloggers that she might need to hire more people these days…

[EDIT — a quick non-library addition here: over at Andrew Halcro’s blog, he notes how there’s been a pretty ham-handed attempt to blame the Troopergate solely on ‘the Democrats,’ which is a ridiculous twisting of the facts regarding the nature of the investigation. The deciding vote on the subpoena yesterday was by a Republican, for instance, while the State Senate President who will okay the issuing of those subpoenas is also Republican. Halcro adds this killer touch in his post:

The committee who voted to support the subpoenas included four Republicans, all conservative, all McCain supporters. On my radio show following the hearing, Representative Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks) said any allegations of partisanship were insulting.

“I’ve had a McCain sign in my yard since August 21 and I’m a proud supporter. My committee is comprised of staunch Republicans who also feel that this process is about getting to the facts.”

Ramras’s official page is here if anyone would care to go through it trying to find secret signs he’s really a Democrat, say. I suspect such a person might be wrong there, though.] Political Blogger Alliance

RIP David Foster Wallace

A brief LA Times article is here. The Howling Fantods! site links to Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits site where further comments and notes are being posted.

I honestly have little to say, beyond shock and surprise. His death was self-inflicted and he was found by his wife.

I can say that I was not a heavy reader of his by any means — I’d still yet to crack Infinite Jest, which I kept meaning to given my own love for sprawling and absurdist fiction (I first became aware of Wallace via comparisons to Thomas Pynchon and John Barth, which immediately piqued my interest). I really only knew scattered essays from his nonfiction work, perhaps (?) most notoriously his piece “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment,” done for Premiere magazine in 1998 about the AVN Video Awards in Las Vegas, and which produced some rather tart responses from said magazine’s staff.

But I link that not to run him down but to acknowledge the piece’s power — it wouldn’t have produced that rebuttal if it weren’t so wide-rangingly entertaining and involving, so very well-written; I think I still have it around somewhere in my collection of random snippets of things. A friend privately asserted a couple of weeks back that Wallace’s ‘shtick’ was in itself not new — Donald Barthelme was the friend’s preferred choice of comparison, which makes sense, but read ‘Me and Miss Mandible’ and judge for yourself. The debate will go on, I am sure.

Regardless — one of the few writers to have a true above-board public profile in 21st century America, and I know many will have cause to mourn. RIP.

EDIT — over on the ILE thread this snippet was posted from the discussion list dedicated to his work, apparently from a former professor of his at Amherst. It’s quite something:

He wrote two senior theses at Amherst: a creative thesis in English that was his first novel, “The Broom of the System,” and a philosophy thesis on fatalism. Both were judged to be Summa Cum Laude theses. The opinion of those who looked at the philosophy thesis was that it, too, with just a few tweaks to flesh out the scholarly apparatus, was a publishable piece of creative philosophy investigating the interplay between time and modality in original ways.

That much is probably common knowledge. Here’s what is not so widely known: Though theses normally take a whole school year to write, DFW had complete drafts of both of his theses by Christmas, and they were finished by spring break. He spent the last quarter of his senior year reading, commenting on, and generally improving the theses of all his friends and acquaintances. It was a great year for theses at Amherst.

Meanwhile, the AP on Palin and libraries…

Personally I’m glad to see that we’re getting more voices and more details on all this — but it is key to note once again however that the word I’ve used the most in previous posts on this subject still applies: ‘murky.’ That said I think the basic headline of this AP piece that made the rounds yesterday — “GOP campaign downplays Palin book-banning inquiry” — applies. And downplaying, frankly, is not the same as direct detailing and addressing. But to say it again, not only murky but arguably now murkier.

To quote some further details in the AP piece that were new to me:

Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said Thursday that Palin asked the head librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, on three occasions how she would react to attempts at banning books. He said the questions, in the fall of 1996, were hypothetical and entirely appropriate. He said a patron had asked the library to remove a title the year before and the mayor wanted to understand how such disputes were handled.

Records on the city’s Web site, however, do not show any books were challenged in Wasilla in the 10 years before Palin took office.

…one longtime library staffer recalls that the run-in made everyone fear for their jobs.

“Mayor Palin gave us some terrible moments and some rather gut-wrenching moments, particularly when Mary Ellen [Emmons] said she was going to have to leave,” said Cathy Petrie, who managed the children’s collection at the time.


The Rev. Howard Bess, a liberal Christian preacher in the nearby town of Palmer, said the church Palin and her family attended until 2002, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was pushing to remove his book from local bookstores.

Emmons told him that year that several copies of “Pastor I Am Gay” had disappeared from the library shelves, Bess said.

“Sarah brought pressure on the library about things she didn’t like,” Bess said. “To believe that my book was not targeted in this is a joke.”

Other locals said the dust-up had been blown out of proportion.

“That was many years ago and Sarah never had any intention to ban books,” said David Chappel, who served as Palin’s deputy mayor for three years. “There were some vocal people in the minority, and it looks like they’re still out there.”

I spoke about Bess in my previous post — struck me as an all-right guy — and Chappel’s comment comes across as at least a bit ambivalent, while Griffin’s explanation at the start about the questions being ‘entirely appropriate’ strikes me as special pleading, frankly. There is something utterly uneasy about the idea of casual discussion of book-banning, and how this is being accepted by her supporters, which is not being questioned enough. Petrie’s comment however is the one that hits closest to home, while ultimately that detail about no books being challenged before she took office is interesting, but raises a very odd question at odds with reports at the time.

To explain — consider that part from the 1996 Frontiersman piece I highlighted in an earlier post — emphasis mine:

Emmons said the current Wasilla policy, which she described as written in more general terms than the borough’s, also worked procedurally in a book-challenge case last year. Emmons said then-council-woman Palin was distressed about the issue when it came up, indicating she was aware of the city’s book-challenge policy.

Emmons said in the conversations with now-Mayor Palin in October, she reminded her again that the city has a policy in place. “But it seamed clear to me that wasn’t really what she was talking about anyhow,” Emmons added. “I just hope it doesn’t come up again.”

This pretty clearly indicates that there was *some* sort of challenge in 1995, before Palin was mayor. The AP piece claims no challenges had been filed, though, and refers to the city’s online records. This document now available via the city’s website — an expansion of the general book-challenge policy fellow blogger Alfie had noted and called to my attention earlier this week — includes both a brief new introduction and further details about challenges filed, when they were filed and their results:

We at the City of Wasilla have received many emails and requests for information about “banned or censored” books at the Wasilla Library while former Mayor Palin was in office. We have no records of any books being “banned or censored” ever.


Our records indicate the following actions requested by library patrons:

Angel Dust Blues by Todd Strasser
Creation of “Young Adult” section in library and placement of item in section

Bumps in the Night by Harvey Allard
Remained on shelf

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
Remained on shelf

America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart
Remained on shelf

The Abduction by Mette Newth
Remained on shelf

This would seem to settle the issue — five challenges, no books removed, one case resulting in a ‘Young Adult’ section — but consider again what I quoted from Emmons in 1996 above. If anything, a Palin supporter might want to publicize a challenge incident in 1995, simply to show that it was in fact something that had recently come up — in otherwards, that the subject wasn’t completely plucked out of the blue by Palin, and that there had been a question from the public about it recently. Emmons seems pretty clear with her words about a 1995 challenge, or more accurately the reporter’s description of her words — which, again, were written in 1996, and weren’t being said with a view to the idea that Palin was going to be a VP candidate in 2008. But the list indicates that prior to 1996 the last challenge was in 1986 — in accordance with the AP piece — and that the next challenge was in 1997.

At base, this much is clear — given what has been said via these various public reports, media and civic, either Emmons’s statement in 1996 is wrong and there was no 1995 challenge, or the list of book challenges is wrong or at least incomplete and there was a 1995 challenge. There is a curious discrepancy here that should be addressed, somewhere.

Meanwhile, a separate document appeared this past Thursday the 11th from the Friends of Wasilla Library, written by its current president Jeanne Troshynski. The document reads:

The Friends have received numerous media questions regarding the rumor that there was a list of books banned by Sarah Palin as mayor of Wasilla. I have researched all the archived Friends of Wasilla Library Board minutes from 1995-1998. I can find nothing to substantiate the theory that there was a list of books recommended to be banned by Sarah Palin. As a Board, the Friends feel pretty passionately about the negatives of banning books. There does seem to have been some discussion about book selection and the challenge policy during the time period in question. It is my personal conclusion that the “banned list” rumor is just sensationalism.

The minutes from the time in question are not in electronic form. Because we are a group of volunteers, we simply do not have time to continue to answer questions from the media.

This is a fair and sensible answer all around — the specific list that was making the rounds was long ago debunked and like it or not (and it says something about the nature of where we are as a society technologically that we’re at the point where we expect everything to automatically be online), unless somebody is willing to put in the time to look through those minutes there’s not much more that can be done. It’s not like I can fly up there on a whim and ask to look through them, for instance. Certainly I’d love to know if there is someone there willing to take the time to do so, but is there?

Turning back to the Bess comment, meantime — that’s a pretty straightforward statement on his part, not simply saying he’d heard that his book had been removed from the shelves, but that Emmons specifically told him that copies had ‘disappeared.’ Emmons (now Smith, as numerous articles have rightly noted given her subsequent marriage) has continued to maintain silence on the matter and I really don’t blame her at all — we may wish for more but the decision to speak now is hers to make, not ours. Still, the questions now suggest themselves: patrons hiding or otherwise removing books, for philosophical or personal records, isn’t unheard of with libraries in general, but how many copies in question of this book? Had there been other incidents? Was this something being investigated? Were there suspects?

Turn back also now to the Brian Ross report on Thursday — in my summary of the new details being offered, I noted this:

There’s a fairly vague claim that ‘around the time’ of Palin’s election, that church and ‘other conservative Christians’ were none too pleased about ‘certain books’ available both in bookstores and the library, mentioning two books in particular — Go Ask Alice and a book of Bess’s own, Pastor, I Am Gay.

If you go back to that official list of book challenges, you’ll note that neither of them are among the five listed books. Thus my point about the claim in the Ross report being vague — like the now discredited list, it emotionally causes an impact, but setting aside Bess’s book for the moment, the Go Ask Alice case, for which no other details have come to my attention so far, appears to be completely separate. Pressure on booksellers from churches regarding content isn’t something to sneeze at either, I should be clear, if that’s what’s happened here, but unless Palin was on record as railing against bookstores — and I suspect we would have heard about THAT by now, or something similar — then there’s little more to add.

To end on this note of unsureness may seem incomplete yet it is the only way to end — as long as there is interest, this will be ongoing, but it would require more questions and more clarification. But I will end here with a brief note of explanation too — it may seem either monomaniacal or simply lacking proportion to be focusing in on this one question of Palin’s background to the exception of many others. In my regular thoughts and observations and discussions with friends, it’s hardly the only thing I’m talking about. But it seems to me that the best I can do here as a writer quietly niggling away at all this is to niggle, to observe and sift and suggest, and this is an issue that interests me personally, philosophically and professionally.

If there is something that puzzles me and says something more about Palin in general, though — and I say this noting that a friend said recently that this is the type of wish-fulfillment that can essentially be considered fanfic — it’s that Palin doesn’t come fully out about this to people, via a direct statement or speech or discussion. Essentially, her entire candidacy so far, the one big RNC speech and its stump derivations aside, has almost been solely reactive, responding to questions or letting others respond to them. (The Troopergate case can almost be seen as the most extreme extension of this at present.) Were I her — and I freely note she is the experienced and election-winning politician and I am not — if a question came up about an issue when I was mayor of Wasilla that, however indirectly, addresses an issue found in our first amendment — the freedom of speech and how that has been interpreted and dealt with in over two hundred years of history — I’d want to be right out there with my take on it, and show I knew something about the matter and didn’t consider it lightly, as a citizen and as a public servant.

But that’s just me. Political Blogger Alliance

Brief thoughts on the Metrolink Chatsworth crash [UPDATES at end]

[UPDATE — a follow-on post is now available here.]

It’s understandable that there’s a lot of attention on the aftermath of Hurricane Ike right about now — in terms of power outages and simple wreckage alone, it was a monster — but out here in the LA area the big thing on my mind is the horrific crash yesterday involving a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train. A head-on collision at high speed, perhaps the most horrifying prospect one could imagine when it comes to train accidents:

Metrolink’s Train 111, en route from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Moorpark, had just left the Chatsworth station when the crash occurred at 4:23 p.m. on a 45-degree bend. The engine of the freight train embedded itself in the front Metrolink carriage as both trains derailed, sending one of the train’s three cars full of homebound commuters keeling onto its side. An earsplitting concussion rocked nearby homes, followed by screams from those aboard.

“I saw it coming,” said Eric Forbes, 56, an administrator at Cal State Northridge who was riding in the second or third car of the Metrolink train when he glanced out the window to see the freight train bearing down. He spoke later at a nearby triage center, his raspy voice swelling with emotion as he was wheeled on a stretcher to an ambulance.

“There was no time to stop,” he said. “The next thing I knew I was in a seat in front of me. It was horrible.”


Tom Dinger, an engineer who retired last year from Amtrak after a 43-year railroad career, said normal procedure called for the northbound passenger train to pull into a rail siding at the Chatsworth station to allow the southbound freight train to pass. He said he had steered through that stretch of track hundreds of times. Between Chatsworth and Simi Valley there is only one set of tracks because of narrow tunnels that trains use to go through the Santa Susana Pass.

The death toll is currently at 18 but could well rise, as they are still carefully working through the wreckage given the possibility of other survivors.

Further LA Times stories include some survivor recollections, including the note that “there are no seat belts, since Metrolink trains are not designed for sudden stops,” something which I had observed plenty of times before but had not heard a rationale for, and a Bottleneck Blog post with a pertinent observation:

Last night, I was able to reach Richard Stanger. He was executive director of Metrolink in its infant years from 1991 to 1998 and now works as a transportation consultant. We spoke about the railroad’s history and how it came to be that commuter trains and freight trains must often share the same set of tracks.

The Metrolink tracks probably carry “more freight traffic and commuter traffic than just about anywhere else in the country,” Stanger said. “It’s all very highly regulated and signalized and very carefully watched by dispatchers daily. There have been hundreds of thousands of freight and Metrolink trips in the last 16 years, so it’s extraordinary when there’s an event like this. At this point, it’s too early to know the reasons behind the crash.”

Friday’s crash occurred on a stretch of single track that extends from just north of the Chatsworth Station through the Santa Susana Pass. There is double track again just west of the pass on the edge of Simi Valley. Was the single track through the pass a big problem through the years? I asked him.

Stanger said it had not been. The two tunnels that carry the single track under the pass were constructed in the early 1900s; building a new tunnel would be costly. Also, he said, though there is some freight moved on the Ventura line, it’s not nearly as much as on the tracks east of Los Angeles — those are the lines that deliver goods to the rest of the country.

“It would be ideal if it was double-tracked. Nevertheless, the signal system is designed to keep trains from being on the same track at the same time,” Stanger said, “and it has done that year after year.”

The coldest comfort for anyone affected by this, of course — not comfort at all. Reactions over at MetroRiderLA make for interesting and varied reading in the comments but I would have to agree with one poster who says:

If you know me, you know that I’m certainly not a believer in “100% risk-free” anything. I admit, my comments are emotional, but I also believe that there was probably basic negligence that lead to this accident. I could be wrong, but it seems that way initially. If in fact it is discovered that it was caused by a negligent operator or faulty piece of equipment, certainly a failure occurred. You then “fix” the cause of whatever caused the operator to be negligent (better training, management, equipment, etc) or “fix” the faulty equipment (new vendor, more maintenance, new technology, etc.)

Again, that reads coldly, but it also seems to match with what is initially known — an accident like this, of this nature, for the first time in sixteen years of running Metrolink on this particular line simply doesn’t sound like something that was inevitable due to the nature of the tracks themselves. It is also quite possible, especially if the cause was human error, that an exact answer will never be known.

I’ve only been on that stretch of track once, two years back on my trip up and down the West Coast, via Amtrak rather than Metrolink. I can’t say I ever thought that there was going to be a problem, and if you read the survivors’ stories in particular you get a sense that they never did either — there was a comforting regularity, an acknowledgment of other fellow riders and a sense that the weekend was here and it was time to relax. To be frank, this is as it should be — one cannot and should not live in constant fear that life may be about to trip you up, even when the risks are clear (to bring Ike into it again briefly, last night a friend expressed surprise that people would choose to live in such an exposed place for hurricane impact like Galveston, to which I immediately responded, “You realize we’re living in an earthquake zone, yes?”).

Back in 2005 — to focus on an even grimmer situation than yesterday’s accident — I arrived in London literally a day after the disastrous bombings in the Tube/bus system there, which claimed the life of an acquaintance of mine. Sensing the silence and nerves among the fellow passengers on the lines I was riding was there and palpable, but nonetheless riding continued, and upon my next visit in 2007, while associations were still inevitable, things felt more relaxed almost by default.

None of this is meant to minimize the horrific trauma that’s occurred, and were I a survivor I would likely be still in unsettled shock now and for a while to come. But I suppose I’m not directing this post to them or their loved ones — or those who have lost loved ones — so much as to anyone else reading this and wanting to assume the worst about the transit system around here, or non-car travel in general. It’s an obvious thing to say but if there was clear negligence and a failure of something somewhere, and if the error can be traced, responsible parties held accountable and new features done to work against a repeat, then let it all be done, and it should be done — there must be answers, as clear as possible.

But that’s no reason to beat down on alternate transit, or to suspect it. As noted, there are risks, they are run. To quote another commenter from MetroRideLA again, from a position far more invested than I have in such things:

I lost a loved [one] seven years ago yesterday in lower Manhattan, owing to air travel being abused. I have since flown a few tens of times across the continent….For all the fatal accidents….I refuse to not ride the rails nor take air travel (when it is relatively affordable) as well as do what I love best: drive across the continent thanks to Auto Driveaway.

And why not?

UPDATE — earlier today this report appeared, which, if accurately describing what happened to cause the crash, is very, very depressing:

A spokeswoman for the Metrolink commuter rail service says the probable cause of the collision that killed at least 23 people was the failure of a Metrolink engineer to stop his train at a red signal.

Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said Saturday the engineer worked for a subcontractor that has been used by Metrolink since 1998.

She said she had no further details about the signal’s location and wouldn’t say if the engineer had survived Friday’s crash.

There are questions that immediately leap to mind — who was this engineer? the subcontractor? how experienced was the engineer? had there been any past incidents similar to this one? — and the language is one of probability rather than of direct sureness, but if this holds — and it is shown that the equipment was working properly but that a signal was somehow ignored or missed — then this tragedy is all the more profound.

UPDATE 2: the LA Times has some more details:

“We want to be honest in our appraisal,” [Tyrell] said at the scene of the crash….”Barring any information from the NTSB, we believe our engineer failed to stop and that was the cause of the accident,” she said, referring to the National Transportation Safety Board. “Of course, it is your worst fear that this could happen, that the ability for human error to occur could come into the scenario.”

She said the engineer, whom she did not identify, was a subcontractor with Veolia Transportation and a former Amtrak employee. Tyrrell said she believed that he had been killed in the crash but that she could not confirm the death. She said she did not know why a series of safety measures and controls along the way, including communication with dispatchers, failed.

Veolia Transportation’s website is here. From ‘Who We Are‘:

Veolia Transportation is North America’s largest private transportation provider. We are also one of the only companies to provide a complete range of transportation solutions; from commuter bus to rail; from private hire to paratransit; from bus-rapid-transit to shared ride transportation. We like to think we have a solution for all transportation needs.

And so forth.

UPDATE 3: The engineer mentioned by Tyrrell is confirmed to have died in the crash. NTSB officials have followed up Tyrrell’s statement by noting that the cause is still under investigation.

UPDATE 4: This LA Times piece on the emergency responders is essential reading. All mentioned in it should take honest, full pride in being ready for the kind of task that many of us will hopefully never have to encounter, and some of the details are simply harrowing. To quote a small part:

He began to make dismal calculations. Two or three could be extracted quickly. Six or seven were dead.

“About eight or 10,” Nagel said, “were alive but weren’t going to make it.”

Barrios lives in Moorpark; many of the crash victims, he figured, lived in his community. One man screamed for help; all they could see was his hand sticking out from under another passenger’s body. Others were shouting: “Get me out! Get me out!”

“You know these people were going home to their families,” Barrios said. “But they’re not going home.”

UPDATE 5: If this report is true, words quite fail me:

According to preliminary reports, the Metrolink engineer may have been text messaging from the cab of the train moments before the devastating crash.

The engineer is said to have been exchanging messages with 15-year-old train enthusiast Nick Williams in the hour and minutes leading up to the accident. The messages were apparently mundane in character — mostly about where the engineer was and where he was going.

The engineer supposedly sent a third and final text message to Williams with a time stamp of 4:22 p.m. The accident happened just one minute later, at 4:23 p.m.

It remains unclear whether the message was sent right at 4:22 p.m. as the time stamp indicates, or if it was sent some time before then.

A Metrolink spokeswoman expressed disbelief that the engineer might have been distracted by a cellphone.

“That would be to me unbelievable,” Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said. “I cannot imagine a scenario where a Metrolink engineer would be texting someone while driving a train.”

Frankly I cannot either. Again, we must know more. This story adds further information.

UPDATE 6 — some more information regarding signals and the route:

“That is a daily freight train. It’s a regular traveler on those tracks,” said Francisco Oaxaca, a Metrolink spokesman. He said the spot where the two trains pass can vary, depending on whether the freight train is running early or late.

“It was often either waiting in that area or we’d have to pull off and wait for it,” said Mike Custodio, 37, an assistant city attorney who rides the 3:35 p.m. train on Fridays.

Shortly before the crash, the Metrolink train was stopped on a siding at the Chatsworth station. The red signal, apparently near the point where the commuter train returned to the single, shared track, was believed to be working properly, Tyrrell said. Those signals are controlled from the Metrolink dispatch center in Pacoima, where train positions are constantly monitored.

The engineer is responsible for checking signals and abiding by them, Oaxaca said. Typically, when an engineer encounters a signal, he radios the train’s conductor, who is supposed to radio back confirming the signal’s color.

It wasn’t clear if that procedure was followed Friday. “That’s going to be part of our investigation and that’s what we’re working with the NTSB on,” Oaxaca said.

UPDATE 7 — further details regarding the signal have been reported by the LA Times:

On Friday….the Metrolink train continued north before the freight train had passed, tripping an alarm at the commuter line’s dispatch center in Pomona.

A Metrolink dispatcher called the train and reached the conductor, according to a Metrolink spokesman.

But by then, the crash had already occurred on the curve leading west toward Simi Valley, killing the engineer.

Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said that officials were still investigating what triggered the alarm.

UPDATE 8 — things are rapidly getting convoluted in terms of the question of the engineer and the signal, and the impressions being generated are not exactly positive. For instance:

National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins said a computer reading indicated the last signal before the collision site was displaying a red light. But she said investigators wanted to make sure it wasn’t a false reading.

Higgins criticized Metrolink for saying Saturday that an engineer had been at fault for failing to heed the red signal, causing the crash with a Union Pacific freight train that so far has claimed 25 lives and left 135 injured, 40 critically.

“I don’t know on what basis Metrolink made that statement. We really work very hard not to jump to conclusions,” Higgins said at a Sunday news conference in Woodland Hills.


The train passed four signals between De Soto Avenue and Nashville Street that, if working correctly, would have flashed yellow or red to warn the engineer to slow and stop.

The engineer, stationed at the front of the train, and conductor, stationed at the back, customarily call each other to repeat signals seen by the engineer, Higgins said. Officials have listened to recordings and found no indication that the engineer and conductor exchanged information on the last two signals, one of which should have been flashing yellow and the other red. The investigators were unsure whether “dead zones” might have interfered with such communication.

Higgins also disclosed that the Metrolink train “blew through” a switch controlling a junction with a railroad siding closest to the accident site. A data recorder said the Metrolink train was traveling at 42 mph when it passed the switch.

NTSB officials have interviewed a Metrolink dispatcher based in Pomona who said he had set up the signals and the switch so that the Union Pacific freighter and the Metrolink train could pass without incident. But Higgins disputed a Metrolink assertion that the dispatcher had tried to contact the train about a potential collision course, a message that allegedly arrived too late.

“By the time the dispatcher realized there was something wrong, the accident had already occurred,” Higgins said. She added that the conductor, who was seriously injured, called the dispatcher to notify him of the accident. The conductor had not been interviewed by her agency, she added.

Tyrrell, meanwhile, has now resigned from her job, as Bottleneck Blog reports:

…yesterday, the Metrolink Board of Directors met in closed session, and after they emerged Ron Roberts, the chair of the Board, issued a statement — first reported on this blog — saying that the National Transportation Safety Board believed the assignment of blame was premature and that the board agreed.


Here’s what Tyrrell told me:

“I felt the damage to my reputation is so great, I could not work for these people anymore,” Tyrrell said. “If I am not mistaken, the engineer blew through a light. The media got on top of this story apparently so unaccustomed to a public agency telling the truth they started to spin it that we were trying to throw all the blame on the engineer. Metrolink is responsible for the engineer, they are responsible for overseeing the contractor. Talking about the human error aspect of this is not a way to shift blame from Metrolink — Metrolink is still the responsible party to oversee the contract with the engineer and the conductors.”

Tyrrell said that she listened in on the board meeting yesterday by telephone, as did most of the board. The board was in closed session most of the time, so Tyrrell would not provide details of what was said in the meeting.

“I am not at liberty to discuss the contents of the board meeting, but I think I can reveal they were unhappy without violating any confidentiality. I was a listener — it was a telephone conference. I did not participate, I was not asked to participate, I was asked to attend the meeting.”

She said Metrolink’s CEO David Solow gave her the authority to make statements to the press on Saturday about the cause of the crash.

“He told me to go ahead…I felt that when my reputation was called into question in the national media by Ron Roberts that there was no going back as far as I was concerned. I believe that David Solow’s decision to allow us to go public without waiting for the NTSB to point the finger was a brave and honorable thing to do. We have a basic difference here that can’t be resolved. I see no way I can represent them and maintain my own standards. They are free to conduct their own business as they see fit.”

Needless to say, this whole thing has just turned extremely bizarre.

UPDATE 9 — of the many sad stories that have emerged, this is one of the saddest.

UPDATE 10 — Tyrrell’s situation seems to be approaching whiplash now:

But late Monday, the tides began to turn again, this time in her favor.

Michael R. Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, which is the principal state agency for rail safety, announced an investigation into the crash that would include “interviewing the former spokeswoman for Metrolink who resigned from the agency, allegedly after her candor in assessing responsibility for the accident was questioned by her superiors.”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said through a representative that he plans to propose that the Metrolink board reconsider her resignation.

“Denise Tyrrell is in the middle of a chaotic and stressful situation and we don’t want her to resign under those conditions,” said Kathryn Leibrich, Antonovich’s chief of staff.

“The supervisor would like to suggest that Metrolink reconsider her resignation,” Leibrich said.

UPDATE 11 — Busy day for me today so just a quick LA Times link noting that reenactments are under way, among other details.

Further updates have been added to a new post.