What was the cause of the Metrolink Accident and could it have been avoided?

Read the Metrolink case study below as well as the Reuters article on train safety rules: Buffett May Benefit as Train Lobby Bids to Weaken Safety Rule.
In your post, consider the following questions:
-What was the cause of the Metrolink accident and could it have been avoided?
-Is the high cost of train control justified by the likely safety gains for passengers?
-Is the money spent to regulate railroad safety being spent in the most efficient way to reduce the risks of death and injury in society?
-If you had been a lobbyist wishing to influence safety legislation after the crash, what would your strategy have been?

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Case Study:


Federal regulation of business is a tool used to achieve public goals. It has expanded over time. There have been ups and downs, but the basic direction has been up, with respect to both volume and complexity. Successive efforts of presidents over the past 40 years have not succeeded in slowing the expansion, but have produced needed discipline including centralized reviews, greater transparency, benefit–cost analysis, and deregulation of some industries. The cost of federal regulation to industry and consumers is huge but is offset by many benefits to society as a whole, individuals, companies, and industries.

Good and Evil on the Rails

As a child Robert M. Sanchez counted the cars on passing trains. One day when he was seven he ran to an idling locomotive and the engineer took him into the wondrous machine, let him blow the horn, and, unwittingly, set his course for life. As he grew up he often visited nearby railyards, never losing his fascination with trains.

After high school he drove Greyhound buses for a time and then found work with Union Pacific on a maintenance crew. After several years he worked his way up, fulfilling his dream of becoming an engineer. Soon Amtrak hired him. He and his partner, a waiter, bought a home near Los Angeles. Neighbors described Sanchez as relentlessly cheerful, buoyant, and passionate about trains. Yet trouble was there too. He was caught shoplifting at Costco, pleaded guilty, and served 90 days in jail on weekends. He argued with his partner and suggested they break up. On February 14, 2003, his partner hung himself in their garage, leaving a note that read: “Rob, Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”1

Two years later Sanchez became an engineer for Metrolink, a commuter rail system crossing six Southern California counties. Metrolink carries about 40,000 passengers a day on a busy 388-mile track network shared with freight traffic. He loved his job though he worked a tiring split shift. Soon he bought a modest suburban house where he lived with four miniature greyhounds. Again, neighbors described him as cheerful, spirited, and exhilarated by railroading, but some saw him as a recluse who kept to himself and avoided revealing his past. He abided with a dirt yard that stood out in a neighborhood of tended landscapes.2

Although friends said Sanchez found joy in his work, there were a few difficulties. He received five informal discipline letters for absences and failure to follow rules. Twice he was counseled orally about use of his cell phone while on duty. In July 2008 a suicidal man sidestepped a crossing arm and ran in front of the train he was operating. Under Metrolink’s policy he took some days off before returning to work, but, according to his family, he was forced to go back before his emotional recovery was complete.3

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