Saturday, September 13, 2008

Transcript Of Gov. Schwarzenegger Holding Briefing On Metrolink-Union Pacific Train Accident


Good morning, everybody -- or good afternoon, it's actually afternoon already. I want to first of all say thank you very much to everyone that gave me a very extensive briefing just now. And I want to thank Sheriff Baca, also, for being hands-on and responding so quickly. And I want to thank also Mayor Villaraigosa who is here today, who also gave me a briefing, who has been here, basically, all night and responded very quickly.

And I just want to say that we are very happy that everyone is working together so well, if it's the locals, if it is the state, OES and federal authorities, everyone is working together to make this happen. We want to thank the police officers, the sheriffs, we want to thank law enforcement from Ventura County. We want to thank the firefighters, the rescue workers who have done an extraordinary job here last night and today and they're working -- there are hundreds of firefighters and rescue workers here and law enforcement officials here all working together, so we want to thank all of them for the great efforts they have made. And I also want to thank OES for helping out and coordinating this whole effort.

It's a very tragic situation. My wife and my thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims and their families and friends. I just met the family of one of the officers that has died in this accident here. So it's a very, very tragic situation, it's one of the worst train accidents in modern history in California. And as you know, now the latest count is 23 people died in this accident and 135 have been injured and we hope that they recover as quickly as possible, of course and get out of the hospital and get back to their normal lives.

But we are all working together on this and there is an investigation to find out exactly what happened. Up until now we know that this was a human error and Metrolink has talked about there was some human failure there -- because we never knew exactly if it was an electrical failure or if it was a mechanical failure, a computer failure, or something was wrong with the tracks -- but they say it was human failure, so the investigation, of course, continues on. The FBI and local authorities, everyone is involved in that investigation.

So again, I want to say thank you to the Mayor for being here today and if you want to also say a few words, please?


Well, first of all, thank you, Governor. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that you're absolutely on the mark when you say that we can be proud today with the performance of the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and all of the -- the CHP and all of the first responders who are here and have worked tirelessly into the night.

What we've seen today is nothing short of sheer courage and determination, dignity for human life, as you can see by what our firefighters have done here. At every moment they've tried to make rescue their number one priority while at the same time protecting the privacy of the victims. And I can tell you that I'm very proud today and want to acknowledge your support and the support of OES over this incident and also in other emergencies as well. Our ability to work together in these efforts is critical and I think today was a great example of that.

Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Governor, this comes at a time when gas prices are high, people have transferred over to mass transit. And now, throughout the entire state, people are possibly afraid that something like this might happen to them. What can you say to reassure the commuters out there who have been taking the eco-friendly mass transit way?

GOVERNOR: I think it is very important for people to know that, even though we have had this tragedy, this way of traveling through the Metro or train, tram, all of those are the best and the safest way to travel. And if you compare this compared to the accidents that are out there on the road when you use your own car, there's no comparison. So this is the safest way to travel but accidents do happen. And it's a rarity and this definitely, as I have said, has been the biggest accident and the hugest one with the most loss of human lives in modern history.

QUESTION: Governor, what is your reaction to the fact that this is human error, that Metrolink has come out and said that an engineer apparently did not stop at a stop light? What is your reaction to this?

GOVERNOR: I think it is always horrible when you find out there is human error. But that's human. And I think that we don't know enough about it yet, of what happened and why that happened. So I think the investigation will go on and we don't know enough information to really exactly pinpoint what was wrong but I think, as time goes on, all of this will come out.

MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA: Let me say something about the human error as well, because I haven't had an opportunity to respond to the admission earlier that Metrolink claims that a human error was involved here and they're accepting responsibility. While we certainly should acknowledge that when someone has made a mistake, we should come forward and accept the responsibly, I think it is important for us to support a continued investigation into what happened here.

And the idea that human error could cause this accident says to me that we need to have some failsafe measure to protect against it. So obviously the NTSB, the FBI, the FRA and the other entities that will be investigating this matter have to investigate it fully. But it seems, to me anyways, that there needs to be some kind of failsafe secondary measure to protect against human error because two trains on the same track is just unacceptable.

QUESTION: Governor, there are some people who suggest that maybe we should have a commission that regulates the following of the NTSB recommendations after accidents like this happen and to make sure that agencies like Metrolink and Amtrak follow it in the state of California. Do you have any plans to regulate this further?

GOVERNOR: Well, I think that there are all kinds of safeguards and I think that they have done a great job, Metrolink and others. I think this is, like I said -- you know, you can regulate it and over-regulate it. It does not prevent you from human error.

But I think the important thing now is to let the rescue workers do their job and let law enforcement do their job and continue working over there. They're doing an extraordinary job; I just saw them. They're still retrieving bodies. We still don't know exactly what's going on underneath one of those wagons. So I think that -- we have, you know, dogs that are trained for cadaver smelling and all those kinds of things, so all of this is going on.

So I think the key thing is now to support the rescue effort and that everyone works together. And I am so proud always in this state of how everyone, the locals, the state and the federal government come together in a situation like that. And we have the hardest-working and the best-trained people here to do the rescue work and the firefighters and law enforcement. So I want to just say thank you to them from the bottom of my heart for their great effort and working around the night and being here and being so dedicated.

Sheriff Baca, if you want to say a few words, please?

SHERIFF BACA: Well, thank you, Governor.

GOVERNOR: Because you have been here also right from the very start.

SHERIFF BACA: Chief Bratton and I are in contact and Jim McDonald, who is acting as the chief of police and I are in full contact with the fire leaders. Today you have been briefed significantly about what has occurred. Our focus at some point, from the very beginning, has always been the families of these victims, that we have a time now not only to demonstrate, through the rescue work, compassion but also love for humanity and love for people. All of this teamwork is because of our great desire to protect people and help people who have been harmed, no matter where that harm source is. The Governor speaks well to what we've done. The Mayor has been on the spot since it occurred; no rest, no sleep. It all comes from the heart.

What we say to the public -- thank you for your outreach and support. This is not a single public government solution. It did involve a lot of citizens on the train who did rescue work with people in uniform. Thanks to them as well. It does involve people who have been calling, asking: What can I do? There's a lot you can do. First of all, have faith that we care about the people who have been injured and we want to memorialize those who have died in an appropriate way so their dignity always remains. Our county knows earthquakes, fires, civil unrest at times and now train wrecks and the resolve that the fire chief, the police chief, the sheriff, the mayor, the governor, is that we will be prepared and we will respond and we will save lives. Thank you.

QUESTION: The death toll, is that 23?

MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA: Well, the latest confirmation from the coroner is 18 confirmed deaths but the Governor is correct. We've taken bodies out since then but we haven't gotten an official confirmation. That is a procedure that has to occur before we can share that with you. But yes, there are --

QUESTION: Twenty-three bodies have been removed from the wreckage?

MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA: Yes. Yes, there have been.

QUESTION: Are there any more bodies?

MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, there are more bodies in the wreckage but at this point there's no way to tell just how many. Remember, as I said earlier, there were 12 -- three engines of 12 cars total on one side, on the Union Pacific side. Here there were three with an engine. We had to remove all of those cars and that's what's taken so long. It's like peeling an onion, as one firefighter said, so it's a very difficult process. We do think, now that we've decoupled all of the cars, we do think that it will go faster from here. But again, it's painstaking work and I just want to acknowledge the LA City firefighters who have done an incredible job here.

I also want to say that Metrolink will be operational on Monday between Chatsworth and Union Station. MTA is working with Metrolink to establish a bus bridge between Ventura County and the Chatsworth Station. We'll be making an announcement later today or Sunday to advice commuters on more specifics. And we have about three or four buses at this point.

QUESTION: Could we have somebody from the NTSB address the investigation at this point?

MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA: They're going to do a separate briefing here.

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