So a post for the car nuts among you

Which really I’m not, aside from general appreciation of random aesthetics. However, the reason why I visit Carmel around this time each here is a bit of a family reunion as my uncle Bob comes out for the Concours d’Elegance, which I know I’ve mentioned on here in previous Augusts. It’s another August, Bob and my mom’s sis Cheryl are out, family get-togethers and good times are being had and so forth. So yesterday was one of the related events, the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, and in keeping with past practice that meant a number of us went down to La Playa for lunch and, as noted above, there was a rather fancy car out front. The first of many seen on the day, it’s a 1926 Hudson Super Six, which featured in the movie version of The Grapes of Wrath.

My batch of car photos can be found here, while here’s the three videos I took of them all revving up and heading out after lunch in Devendorf Park was over:

“36 Hours in Carmel-by-the-Sea”

Well, this was amusing to note. It should of course be said that Carmel, like any number of places that rely on the tourist trade to one extent or another, gets plenty of attention like this in travel sections and magazines, so seeing another Carmel story isn’t a surprise, and of course this can’t be the first Carmel story in the NY Times. Nor will it be the last — the whole idea is to go back, revisit and update from time to time, each time talking about finding ‘the real Carmel’ or whatever place is being talked about.

As per such time-specific pieces there’s too much about trying to cram everything in and too little about, you know, enjoying your time. So I get to look at something like this and try and square it with my own experience of Carmel, which for me means going home, sleeping in, wandering about as desired and enjoying everything about the place at leisure. If I miss something one time back, I’ll catch it the next time through. But then again anybody who lives in a place that gets the tourists will recognize that phenomenon, where the tour buses go past the monuments that to you are just the regular everyday skyline and mental geography.

Further, and utterly unsurprisingly, the whole idea is ‘yeah, please come here…preferably if you’re made of a lot of money.’ The accompanying slide show underscores this a bit — the photos are all great but also made me wonder if I was viewing a high end clothes catalog instead. (Not too surprising, really — have I ever mentioned the couple of times I’ve seen Ralph Lauren around down on Ocean Avenue?) Such is image, luxury, conspicuous consumption — whereas if I had written a piece like this I would have mentioned RG Burgers, low-key, relaxed and a favorite of the whole family’s, and where old students and athletes who my dad taught or coached almost always seem to run into him whenever we’re there.

Still, there’s plenty of crossover between Carmel as I know it and as it’s described in the piece, and many spots are singled out that I would always recommend to visitors — the Mission Ranch is a bit of a no-brainer, and my sis, my cousin George, his wife Pilar and I all had drinks there one night during the holidays. Similarly I loved the mentions of Bruno’s and the Cheese Shop, and Point Lobos, the Mission and the 17-Mile Drive are certainly all that. (And I did have to appreciate a piece on Carmel that acknowledges Pebble Beach but didn’t dwell on the various hotels and restaurants and things there — though I almost wonder if they felt that in this economy that might be one step too far in terms of what to focus on.)

In all, as mentioned, an amusement. But it does make me glad that I can call it home.

Chilling in SF is the way to go…

…at least for me right now. Blogging to be very sporadic while I relax with family and friends in the run up to Xmas but keep an eye on the Flickr stream and occassional crosspists from there to here. Hope everyone’s doing well, more posts when I’m home for Xmas itself if not sooner!

A quick further note on the Chatsworth Metrolink crash and texting

As mentioned earlier, it’s been an incredibly busy week for me and while I’ve been generally keeping note of further developments in the story I haven’t had the time to really comment much. Today’s revelation, however, deserves notice:

A Metrolink engineer sent a text message from his cellphone 22 seconds before he collided with an oncoming freight train in an accident that killed 25 people and injured 135 others last month, federal authorities said today.

Engineer Robert M. Sanchez sent the message at approximately 4:22 p.m., just before his Metrolink 111 train slammed into the Union Pacific freight train on Sept. 12 in Chatsworth, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a written statement. He also received a message about a minute earlier, the agency said.

….

The safety board today cautioned that its disclosures were preliminary.

“The precise timing and correlation of these events is still underway,” the NTSB said. Two key questions were whether Sanchez had left the station when he sent his last text message and how close he was to the point of impact with the Union Pacific train.

It’s extremely disheartening to read this, to be blunt. As noted, there’s still questions, so while the impulse to completely damn Sanchez is incredibly understandable, more must still be considered. However, I feel disheartened not out of a sense that Sanchez is being inaccurately blamed — while his union and his family are understandably arguing against this, frankly I think the circumstantial evidence is growing far stronger, not weaker — but because Sanchez would have done something like this so often in the first place, as the story notes.

More to say about this later, perhaps.

Positive results from the Metrolink Chatsworth crash

Since I first heard about the crash, I’ve been hoping something good would come out of it, and buried in all the news about the bailout and whatever else was going on yesterday was a Congressional hearing headed up by Senators Feinstein and Boxer, with some necessary grilling taking place. Regrettably I was too busy at work to throw up a live link to the hearing and there’s no full transcript available yet to my knowledge, but both senators have info on their sites linked above, while the Bottleneck Blog has some relevant links to prepared statements and this full LA Times story provides a general summary.

The key things to note:

Spurred by the deadly head-on crash of two trains in Chatsworth, congressional negotiators agreed Tuesday to a groundbreaking rail safety reform bill requiring many passenger and freight trains to be equipped with technology that can automatically prevent collisions.

….

The compromise legislation will be put to a vote in the House today and then go to the Senate before Congress is scheduled to adjourn Friday.

The bill would provide $50-million to help pay for the technology, cap the number of hours that freight train crews could work each month at 276 hours — the current limit is more than 400 hours — and require the U.S. Department of Transportation to draw up limits for passenger crews. In addition, the bill would require the Federal Railroad Administration to add safety workers.

Nothing to object to in any of this, I think. It’s good to keep in mind that this is neither an exact guarantee against a repeat of something like this, nor meant to be an immediate fix (Feinstein herself is quoted at her frustration that the deadline will be 2015). But it’s a recognition that standards need to be improved where possible, and there now seems to be a broader consensus in accepting the positive train control technology standard. At the least, it puts David Solow’s previous — and admittedly, pre-crash — argument about ‘flexibility’ to bed once and for all. (Also, $50 million is chump change against $700 billion, say.)

There were some tart words from both Feinstein and Boxer about it all, too — reminds me why I enjoy having them as my senators:

The senators repeatedly expressed frustration over the fact that in Southern California, Metrolink and Union Pacific have to rely solely on single engineers as the last defense against collisions.

Rail industry officials said the most advanced technology is not yet developed enough to dependably work in Southern California’s complex web of passenger and freight traffic.

“I can’t understand it, I can’t be sympathetic with it,” Feinstein said during the briefing. “It’s an incredible frustration to say you can continue to operate passenger and freight on the same single track with no collision-avoidance system.”

….

Boxer questioned [Joseph H. Boardman, head of the Federal Railroad Administration] about what he could do immediately to help improve safety on rail lines in Southern California.

Unsatisfied with Boardman’s answer that he couldn’t do anything dramatic immediately, Boxer replied: “So you can’t do anything about safety?” then added a few moments later “What powers do you have? What’s your job? You’re sitting there saying you can’t tell them to do anything?. . . . You have the power, you don’t want to do it, you’d rather work with the railroads.”

….

Feinstein left the hourlong hearing clearly exasperated with what she heard, calling the Federal Railroad Administration “an old boys’ club” in an interview.

“I think they sit down and talk to the railroads,” Feinstein said. “I think they do what the railroads want.”

In a statement after congressional negotiators had agreed on the rail safety bill, Boxer noted that, “The Federal Railroad Administrator has the ability under this bill to speed up the timeline” for the installation of automatic breaking systems, “and I trust he will do it.”

One does trust.

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The Chatsworth Metrolink crash, continued [updates posted at the end]

My initial post had to be rapidly and continually updated as I went, as more stories and, frankly, confusion emerged regarding not simply the tragic accident but the in-retrospect chaotic flurry of press statements, admissions and retractions and overall bizarreness regarding both the accident and how it was handled. Combined with a work crunch I needed to step away a bit to see what if anything came clearer. Over the last couple of days, this all came to light, referring to a variety of LA Times stories:

  • The engineer of the Metrolink train — this profile of his life is worth reading, and shows he bore some heavy burdens — had indeed sent and received texts on the day of the crash, though there is no official word yet on whether he had done so just before the crash, as has been claimed. Should the investigation show this to be the case — and at this point, the investigators have ruled out problems with the trains or the signals — it would be depressingly clear that for whatever reason the engineer put himself and his passengers at unacceptable risk. The proposed policy change to forbid personal wireless communications among train crew members that the CPUC appears set to implement is quite logical given the circumstance.
  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has replaced two members of the Metrolink board, claiming that the board’s actions with regard to spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell were collectively flawed. The mayor claims that the two replaced members weren’t specifically being singled out but it’s hard to assume otherwise, frankly.
  • Attention is now focusing in Congress on the question of positive train controls as a safety backup, and whether it should be specifically required in all cases. David Solow, the Metrolink CEO who was involved in the Tyrrell weirdness of the weekend, testified last year in front of Congress that ‘flexibility’ was key — perhaps a logical argument to make given the complexity of the train systems around here, but now politically unacceptable.

MetroRiderLA has posted an opinion piece in support of Tyrrell which also serves as a thoughtful reflection on the nature of Metrolink as an organization that is well worth the read. To quote it briefly:

I’ve talked to Board members, staff, and passengers, and there is a unique bond between the passengers and the staff, which has survived previous incidents, annual fare increases, and other issues. And sometimes, you have to face up to the reality of what happened, and try to start the healing process. The odds of the story changing are very slim, probably slimmer than the chance of the collision happening in the first place.

After an incident, there is a lot of speculation. Could it be the Union Pacific’s fault? A case of terrorism? (After all, almost simultaneously to when she made the statement, a special Board meeting was held regarding a potential threat to public safety.) Tyrrell needed to reassure commuters by telling all of the facts she knew. NTSB investigations usually take over a year and at the end they tell everyone what they already know. Meanwhile, a lot of goodwill is lost.

The LA Times Bottleneck Blog has been posting a variety of stories, unsurprisingly.

I have little more to add than what I said in the original post I made: “…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.” It’s still early days, of course, but it is beginning, and none too soon.

Earlier today, as expected, the CPUC has now banned the use of cellphones for on-duty rail workers. I can sense where there can be possible objections or modifications to this policy worked out over time — it could be argued, I think rightly, that there is a need for contact in case someone close to an on-duty worker needs to get hold of someone urgently, but if the policy is made plain that when a worker is on-duty that only emergency contacts would be allowed, and that anyone attempting to contact someone on-duty would need to be aware of this in turn, then I think a reasonable balance would be able to be struck. Too late for this long overdue change to be made, but better late than never — it certainly has been an eye-opener to realize that there was no such policy like this in place beforehand, but I fear that is always going to be the case when technology outstrips necessary adjustment in regulation.

That same link details the funeral of police officer Spree DeSha. Without wanting to make her a symbol — from what I can tell in the reports and memories that have been posted, she was a low-key and no-nonsense person and officer who would have been embarrassed by what she considered to be outsized attention — I think it is a sign of some sort of progress, quietly but ever onward, that full honors from the police, church and city were granted to someone who also just happened to be lesbian, and whose partner, shown in the LA Times photo below, also works for the LAPD as a full officer. This is as it should be. No further qualifiers are necessary.

A last farewell

Rest in peace.

UPDATE Friday 19 — three brief LA Times stories to note: first, one on the teenage railfans who apparently knew the Metrolink engineer. My only comment is that I fully understand both the impulse of total fandom in general, as well as acknowledging how they feel like they’ve gotten a raw deal in the press. It’s a rough lesson to learn, but still worth learning.

Meanwhile, this story of a crash between a Blue Line train and a bus is really what Metrolink and the MTA in general doesn’t need right about now. Bottleneck Blog has more.

Finally, a vigil is being held tonight in Chatsworth:

The girls decorated several hundred tea lights that they will hand out to participants to recognize the survivors of the crash — which occurred just steps away from some residents’ homes — and special candles representing each of those who died, Daniels said.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:45 p.m. at 10046 Old Depot Plaza Road.

The location via Google Maps is here.

(And a last addition for the day — the story of Paul Long, his fellow pastor, and a final sermon. I am irreligious, but I am not made of stone, and this is a moving story of a passing, and a remembrance.)

UPDATES Saturday 20 — two very good new pieces to note at the LA Times — first, an overall report on how the investigation will be done:

“It’s a very deliberative, careful process,” said agency board member Kitty Higgins, who responded from Washington, D.C., with the safety board’s 17-member “Go Team.”

The group, which includes rail experts, electrical engineers and psychologists, was on call when the Sept. 12 crash occurred and flew to Los Angeles the next morning.

….

The NTSB is one of the smallest federal agencies in Washington. It has 400 employees, half of them dedicated to investigations. Typically, it investigates about 2,000 aviation accidents each year and about 500 other accidents on railways, highways and waterways.

The NTSB has no enforcement authority and relies largely on the thoroughness of its investigations and final reports. “The only thing the board has is its credibility,” said James E. Hall, who chaired the agency’s five-member board of directors during the Clinton administration.

….

To leverage its limited resources, the agency relies on the “party system,” which Workman and his investigators launched at the scene.

Every party involved in the Chatsworth collision — Metrolink, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the union representing the Union Pacific engineer, among others — has been asked to take part in the investigation.

Second is this revealing story about Metrolink — while I knew it was separate from the MTA and similar organizations like the OCTA, I had no true idea of how much of a red-headed stepchild it is in terms of funding via the many counties it works with. As a jury rig organization, personally I think it’s actually done extremely well overall, but it sounds like it is seriously time to consider what can be done to improve both its budget and its overall governance.

As I’ve said before, if something can be done to improve on this tragedy, to take lessons learned and apply them, then some good can come out of it. But it is starting to sound like it is not just simply a question of safety equipment and training, but deeper institutional review. It is one thing to support the goal of mass transit, and I have a good general faith in Metrolink’s employees (or, as I now more clearly understand, its many subcontracted employees), but it is another to support blindly.

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.