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More on the Chatsworth train crash and Andrew Cohen

Updating my earlier post on the controversy over the damages cap in the Chatsworth train accident case, it's worth noting this letter from Antoine Frerot, the chairman and CEO of Veolia. I was apparently too generous to Andrew Cohen in assuming he was correct that it was indisputably engineer error that caused the accident: there was evidence that the signal the passenger train ran was green, rather than red—a possible consequence of Metrolink's failure to implement Positive Train Control safety technology. If so, this would have been the fault of the governmental Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which had induced Veolia to run Metrolink by promising to indemnify them for accidents—a contractual promise they ended up breaching.

Veolia's ban on cell-phone use by engineers exceeds federal safety regulations; the Federal Railroad Administration considered and rejected such a ban. (The engineer himself had been hired by Amtrak, not Veolia, who was required to retain Amtrak employees when assuming its share of Metrolink operations.)

Needless to say, all of this information further undermines Cohen's claims that the damage caps in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act that President Clinton signed in 1997 (much less tort reform) was bad public policy or an injustice. Even assuming that there would be a passenger railroad industry without the caps, in the absence of the caps, Veolia would have continued to contest liability, and would have refused to settle the case—and may well have won, leaving Chatsworth victims to collect even less money from the underinsured and underfunded SCRRA. (Indeed, per-passenger recovery in earlier Metrolink accidents was substantially lower.)

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.