Metrolink, Caltrans, USGS pilot earthquake early warning system to enhance rail safety

Sept. 13, 2021
The technology will also provide enhanced data to support inspection of the rail network and resumption of service following an earthquake.

Metrolink will pilot the use of a new technology to help ensure the safe and rapid slowing and stopping of trains in the event of an earthquake.  

The technology is being deployed along Metrolink’s 91/Perris Valley Line between the cities of Perris and Riverside and is a partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).   

The Earthquake Early Warning System uses data from the USGS-operated ShakeAlert® to notify Metrolink’s Positive Train Control (PTC) system that an earthquake has occurred. The technology can rapidly slow or stop the Metrolink train even before ground shaking is felt. PTC is designed to prevent train-on-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones and other train movements that could potentially lead to incidents.   

“This program is another initiative by Metrolink to move technology forward in a real-world environment to help protect our riders and crews and reflects our position as a leader in rail safety,” said Metrolink CEO Darren Kettle.  

The technology will also provide enhanced data to support inspection of the rail network and resumption of service following an earthquake.  

“The technology identifies where protection is needed on a rail network to safely continue rail operations," said Robert-Michael de Groot of the USGS Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena. "We look forward to working together to provide real-time earthquake early warning alerts powered by ShakeAlert®.” 

The system will be deployed on Metrolink trains in two phases. The initial version automatically processes ShakeAlert® data and sends notifications to train crews in the impacted area with train handling instructions based on the severity of the earthquake detected. A second phase, which is under development, adds PTC enforcement to automatically stop or slow trains when needed.   

“Safety is always our top priority at Caltrans,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “This new technology will provide innovative solutions to enhance safety on our transportation networks.”  

ShakeAlert® is an earthquake early warning system that detects significant earthquakes quickly so alerts can reach people before shaking arrives. ShakeAlert® is not earthquake prediction, rather a ShakeAlert® message indicates that an earthquake has begun, and shaking is imminent.  

The technology was tested on the Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail service in northern California and has been in full operation for a year.   

After the system is fully developed it will be evaluated for potential expansion across the entire Metrolink system.