United States

Widowed by a Train Accident, Woman Asks North Texas: ‘Why Are You Waiting' on New Safety System?

The TRE is behind schedule on the installation of "positive train control" safety equipment

When Claudia Souser talks about the "journey," she doesn't mean that day on Sept. 12, 2008, when her husband Doyle boarded Train 111 of the Metrolink commuter line in Los Angeles.

She is referring to what has happened since.

"You know, you never think, 'I'm going to be a widow," Souser said.

"I'm going to live my life alone and I'm going to raise my kids alone … It's certainly a journey we didn't think we would ever have," she said.

That's because Doyle died that September day, along with 24 others, when Train 111 barreled through the Chatsworth area of LA, where it slammed head-on into a freight train.

Along with the dead, 135 people were injured.

It was later determined that the train's engineer was texting on his cell phone and failed to stop at a signal.

Souser believes that if her husband's train had been equipped with a computerized safety system – the same system still absent on North Texas' Trinity Railway Express line – her husband would be alive today.

"…there wouldn't have been a crash," she told NBC 5 Investigates in an interview at her home near Los Angeles.

As we reported last month, the TRE, which moves an estimated 8,000 passengers daily between Fort Worth and Dallas, is behind schedule to install the "positive train control" safety equipment, also known as PTC, which is now required by the Federal Railroad Administration.

In fact, it is so far behind, the line is in danger of breaking a deadline set by the FRA, which could then shut the Dallas/Fort Worth commuter line down, officials have said.

PTC is a computerized system that monitors train speeds, sends alerts of potential trouble, and can actually take over and stop a train when necessary.

Its purpose, experts say, is to save lives.

While other, much larger commuter lines in the country are well along in implementing PTC, the Trinity Railway Express had the equipment installed on only three of its 17 trains, and none of the required equipment was on its tracks, when NBC 5 Investigates first reported the story in June.

But in an interview, Reed Lanham, the TRE's vice president of technology, said he was not worried by the delay, and does not feel the absence of the safety equipment is placing passengers at greater risks.

"Well, um, I would not think so. Again, we have not on the TRE had an incident that" PTC computers could have prevented, Lanham said.

Fort Worth-based Trinity Metro, which runs the TRE, says it has struggled to find funding and contractors, and plans to ask the federal government for a two-year extension of the deadline.

But in Los Angeles, the positive train control system is already up and running on the city's much larger commuter railway – progress pushed along after the crash that killed Doyle Souser.

It was one of the deadliest train accidents in U.S. history.

Reeling from the accident, the city set out to install the positive train control apparatus, a massive, $200 million system that monitors 500 miles of track from a high-tech command center.

NBC 5 Investigates went to see.

"There was a great deal of skepticism and some just didn't like the idea of PTC because of the cost," said Art Leahy, chief executive officer of Metrolink. "But we were determined to do it because of the consequences of not having it," Leahy said.

Asked whether the computerized control system is making a difference, he said, "One-hundred percent. We haven't had any close calls with PTC in operation."

Knowing the loss caused by a bad train accident, Souser said she is surprised the safety system isn't already on track at the Trinity River Express, as well as at some other commuter lines across the country.

"It's the right thing to do, and it should be done..." she said, adding, "Why are you waiting?"

A Trinity Metro spokesperson told NBC 5 Investigates their CEO and board president were unavailable for comment.

They sent a statement saying "the TRE is committed to the safety of its patrons and operates today with a critical safety system in place. The TRE will continue to work toward full PTC implementation to enhance this safety system."

They hope to have PTC in place sometime next year.

Trinity Metro is also building a new billion-dollar rail line connecting Downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport -- it's scheduled to open in January. But the agency said that new line won't have PTC fully implemented until the end of 2020.

Contact Us