Contractor Will Not Increase Fund for LA Train Crash Victims

A contractor that employed the engineer blamed for the deadly 2008 crash of a Metrolink commuter train in Los Angeles won’t add more money to a $200 million victim’s compensation fund.

Veolia Environment rejected a request by California’s congressional delegation to voluntarily increase the fund, the Ventura County Star reported Monday.

“You overlook others who, in the final analysis, should be held accountable,” meaning Metrolink, Veolia Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Antoine Frerot wrote in a July 19 letter to the delegation.

Connex, a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation, a French conglomerate, was operating Metrolink trains on Sept. 12, 2008, when the commuter train struck a Union Pacific freight train head-on in the San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth. The crash killed 25 people and injured nearly 100.

Federal investigators later concluded the engineer had been texting moments before the crash and ran a red light.

Last year, Veolia and Metrolink settled lawsuits by agreeing to establish a $200 million fund to compensate victims. The amount was all that could be obtained because a 1997 federal law capped damages in passenger train accidents.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman, who divided up the money among survivors and families of victims earlier this month, said the cap forced him to make impossible decisions.

Attorneys said injured passengers and families of those killed will receive anywhere from about $12,000 to $9 million _ far less in some cases than the projected costs of their future medical care. The money was awarded based on degree of injury.

“What was given to one victim had to be taken from another,” the judge wrote. His tentative awards to victims had totaled an additional $64 million.

In urging Veolia to voluntarily contribute more money, California’s congressional congregation cited British Petroleum’s actions in providing additional funding to victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil rig blowout despite a federal cap on damages.

In his reply letter, Veolia’s chairman said the rail authority that runs Metrolink had contractually promised to pay all accident claims without a dollar limitation and regardless of cause.

But in fact, the insurance fell short and Veolia contributed $54 million to the victims’ compensation fund, Frerot said.

He said the judge’s compensation figure exceeded, on a per-claim basis, the amounts paid to victims of 9/11 and to victims of Metrolink accidents that occurred before Veolia assumed train operations.