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Rail agency sues contractor over L.A. collision

The Associated Press
October 26, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Southern California Regional Rail Authority has filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to determine whether its contractor can be held responsible for the deadly collision of one of its Metrolink commuter trains and a freight train.

The rail agency, already facing two lawsuits related to the Sept. 12 disaster, sued Connex Railroad LLC after they could not agree on whether their contract protects the other from liability, according to court papers released Friday. Connex provides engineers who run the Metrolink trains, including the engineer blamed for the deadly collision.

“An actual controversy has arisen and now exists between SCRRA and Connex,” according to the lawsuit, which asks the court to interpret the contract and determine which party could be held liable.

Connex is a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation, a private operator of bus, rail, shuttle and other transportation services throughout North America. Veolia spokeswoman Erica Swerdlow said the company would not comment on ongoing litigation involving the company.

“We continue to operate the service within full compliance of our contract with Metrolink,” she said.

Metrolink is operated by the SCRRA, which has members from five counties’ transportation planning agencies. The agency met in closed session Friday to discuss anticipated and ongoing litigation stemming from the collision.

A Metrolink spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The collision in the San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth occurred when a Metrolink train failed to stop at a red light and ended up on the same track as an oncoming Union Pacific train. Investigators have said the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, sent dozens of text messages on duty that day and one just seconds before the impact that killed 25 people and injured more than 130.

According to a Los Angeles Times story, Metrolink made a contract change four years ago when Connex and Amtrak were bidding to provide engineers and crew members for the agency. Concerned about losses incurred because of negligence by contract train crews, Metrolink required bidders to assume all financial risk resulting from the “willful misconduct” of its employees.

Connex won the contract after agreeing to language that would free Metrolink of liability resulting from acts of “willful misconduct” by its employees, according to the Times story, citing records and interviews.

Legal experts have said litigation from the collision could easily push the limits on a federal law that sets a $200 million cap on damage payouts to victims of a train crash.

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