News 4 Investigates Metrolink train not stopping, separating 10-year-old from family
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) – It’s 9:30 at night after a Cardinals home game. A 10-year-old girl and her family are heading home on a Metrolink train. The girl steps off at an East St. Louis stop, thinking her parents and sister are behind her. Seconds after getting off the train, the girl turns around to see the doors closed before her family could join her. The train speeds off, leaving the girl alone.
Those terrifying moments have the girl’s family and other passengers who were on the train, questioning if something could have been done to prevent this.
News 4 Investigates obtained surveillance video from the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center platform, which shows how the train doors closed within two seconds of the 10-year-old getting off the train.
News 4 is not identifying the girl since her family did not want to be interviewed.
Julie Conley was also leaving the game and sitting in the same car as the family. She recalls the panic that immediately spread through the train.
“We are starting to pull away from the station and we hear these blood, I mean blood curling screams,” Conley said. “The dad started running towards our part of the train and he says my daughter got off the train.”
Surveillance video from the platform shows how the doors closed as the girl’s dad was trying to step off the train. Passengers on the platform can be seen trying to wave down the driver.
Conley says inside the train every passenger swung into action,
“Everybody in our section was screaming,” Conley said. “Several people jumped up and we’re all saying hit the red buttons because above each one of the doors there is a red button.”
Conley is referring to buttons labeled “passenger alarm” which work by sending an alert directly to the driver. Conley says the parents also used the emergency intercom to talk to the driver.
Metrolink trains do not have emergency stop buttons that passengers can hit. The only one who can stop the train is the driver.
“The driver should have been able to come over the PA and and said is there a problem?” Conley added. “Train didn’t slow down nothing.”
Instead Conley says the train continued to the next stop, Washington Park which is nearly two miles away. Conley remembers the family get off and never a word from the driver.
“The train pulled right on to the next station,” she said.
At the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center station, security video from Metrolink shows the train left at 9:32 p.m. The video shows how people on the platform immediately tried to help the girl, including a man who used the emergency telephone on the platform to call Metrolink’s private security.
In Metrolink’s audio recording of the call you can hear the dispatcher ask the man to stay with the girl until deputies get there.
The man agrees and the call ends. During the call, the Metrolink dispatcher never asked for the man’s name or contact information.
Based on Metrolink records, that passenger made the first call to security. The train driver called it in nearly 5 minutes later, something he did as he left the next stop.
Around the time when the train driver is calling security, surveillance video from the platform shows the camera started to move as staff located the girl and zoomed in on her.
At 9:40 p.m. around 10 minutes after the train left, two St. Clair County sheriff’s deputies show up and stay with the girl.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Park station, surveillance video shows the girl’s parents waiting and then rushing to catch a bus back to their daughter.
Metrolink surveillance video shows the family was reunited just after 10 p.m., nearly a half hour after they were separated.
News 4 Investigates asked Metrolink why the family’s only option was to get off at the next stop and find a ride back to their daughter.
“I will not suggest to you that anything was done improper,” said Kevin Scott, General Manager of Security at BiState Development, which runs Metrolink.
Scott says all the emergency alerts and the train’s intercom system worked. Weekly maintenance records show the train was checked four days earlier and everything passed.
“Prior to every shift the operators inspect the train the buttons alarms,” Scott added.
According to Metrolink emergency buttons on the train send alerts directly to the driver, who then has to call it into security. Scott says those steps were followed in this case.
News 4 Investigates found Metrolink records show the driver called it in as he was leaving the next station, which was 5 minutes after the girl got separated.
When asked if there would have been a way to stop the train, Scott answered, “There’s no emergency stop button on the train. When you press the emergency button that puts you in direct communication or it alerts the operator that there’s an issue.”
News 4 Investigates checked other cities with above ground metro systems to see what their policies on emergency stops.
In Chicago the transit authority says if a train was pulling away a passenger would have to use the intercom to talk to the driver, who would then notify security and employees at the station.
San Francisco, which has a bigger rail system, says drivers are expected to look out the window before moving the train to make sure there’s no issue with passengers. They also have security staff on platforms who could step in.
On the Metrolink tracks Scott says everything comes down to timing.
“The trains are only at the platforms for about 20 seconds,” he said.
Scott explained that drivers can hold trains at a platform, but once the train is moving it’s a different case.
“Once the doors are closed and the train is moving, the scenario will play out as we’re discussing,” Scott said. “I would suggest that if there is something that is happening and the door is not closed yet, to block the door so the operator can’t close the door.”
Scott acknowledges the man who helped the girl and made the first call to security was a best case scenario.
News 4 asked Scott, “Things could have ended very differently had it been maybe someone else at the platform, as a parent if you’re in that situation what are you supposed to do?”
Scott explained that Metrolink passengers are a community. He added, “My recommendation would be and will always be, when you have a child with you keep the child close to you, make sure you’re in control of where they go and what they do.”
Scott claims this isn’t an issue that comes up often and this is the first time he’s seen it happen in his three years on the job.
“Does this happen often? It does not happen often. Is this an anomaly for us where a child gets separated on the system? It is,” Scott added.
Julie Conley hope it stays that way, but knowing the train didn’t stop is leaving her with more questions than answers.
“How do we get help?” Conley questioned.
Metrolink stresses everything worked like it should have in this case.
Following News 4′s interview with Kevin Scott, the head of Metrolink security, a spokeswoman sent News 4 a statement to add more information. In the statement she wrote that drivers are the only ones who can stop a train and using the emergency brakes can cause cause significant injuries to the driver and passengers.
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