By Christian Monterrosa and Ryan Painter
Metrolink was set to unveil its brand new Tier 4 Locomotive, touted as “the future of public transportation,” at the Newhall Station on Saturday, before technical difficulties stalled the project in its tracks.
Dubbed the Tier 4 Locomotive, the $280 million train — about $169 million of which was footed by California taxpayers — was set to be at the Newhall Station by 4:30 p.m.
Metrolink officials invited the public, as well as city, county and even federal officials, to come view the “cleanest, most powerful and safest diesel locomotive in the nation,” and “one of the most environmentally friendly trains in the nation.”
However, after about a 70-minute delay, during which Congressman Steve Knight, R-Santa Clarita, L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, State Senator Henry Stern, Assemblyman Dante Acosta and Councilwoman Marsha McLean met with the crowd that had gathered, the locomotive was nowhere in sight.
By approximately 5 p.m, the crowd began to realize the train the delays were unplanned and the locomotive had stalled prior to reaching its destination at the Newhall Metrolink, prompting officials with the transportation agency to assure the crowd that, in spite of these mechanical difficulties, the multimillion-dollar engine would still make it to the station. McLean, a staunch supporter of Metrolink, praised the promise of the new rail technology in her opening statements.
Among those eagerly anticipating a glimpse of the new train was Major Ortiz, 16, a railfan from Lancaster who had been driving all over Southern California on Saturday to see Metrolink’s latest engines.
“I’ve seen (the Tier 4) seven times in fact,” said Ortiz. “They run pretty good, but I’ve been told that they are having issues a lot. They’ll work it out. I know they will.”
The rumors Ortiz had been hearing were confirmed when the Tier 4 locomotive teased the crowd on its arrival, but broke down before it could get to the station. It sat, completely stationary, for approximately 10 minutes about 300 yards out from the station.
Engineers and technicians scrambled to get the train operational again and momentarily breathed life back into the event — until the train once again faltered just before the finish line, blocking traffic across the Market Street and Railroad Avenue intersection.
A Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station motorcycle officer helped citizens safely cross the train tracks to get from the Metrolink Station, an official parking location for the city’s Light Up Main Street event, across Market Street and into the event.
By about 5:20 p.m., the crowd which had waited for the train’s arrival had dissipated, leaving Metrolink CEO Art Leahy to deal with the state-of-the-art train stuck on Santa Clarita tracks.
Leahy pleaded with a train engineer to move the locomotive forward and get out of the intersection, even invoking his title at one point during a heated back and forth.
The engineers managed to fulfill the order by separating the cars to free up the intersection.
“I guess the most important thing I would say is, whether you buy a new Ford or a new Chevy, you buy an item of which they make a million of,” said Leahy in an interview with the Signal, after the dust had settled.
“In the case of airliners, locomotives — there’s been about 10 of these built in the whole world,” he added. “We’re still in the phase of debugging the things.”
Leahy explained the nightmare to Metrolink’s COO over the phone in front of reporters, frustrated, but optimistic about the cleaner energy potential for the locomotive.
“If there’s anything stupider that we can do, well find it,” he said. “We’ve done everything wrong tonight.”
Once fully operational, the new trains will reduce particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 85 percent and will mitigate the annual emissions of over 30,000 vehicles, according to Metrolink.
“The people who were going to look at the Tier 4 are gone,” he said, “So in any case, we need to do a post mortem on it, some lessons learned.”