LA Commuters killed in head-on train crash

September 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided in Chatsworth Friday afternoon, trapping passengers inside at least three Metrolink cars, one of which was burning. Ten people were confirmed dead and as many as 30 to 40 others were injured. -----------------------------------------------------------------------
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L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa confirmed 10 people were dead, a number that was confirmed by the Coroner's Office. It was feared there were as many as 100 people injured in the crash. Los Angeles police Lt. John Romero said the death toll may be as high as 20. An LAPD officer was reported among those killed in the train crash.

Metrolink provided a telephone information line to provide answers specifically for family members. The number for family members: (800) 371-5465. The public was asked to keep the lines open for family members to call in.

A public unification center has been set up at Chatsworth High School, 10027 Lurline Ave., near Devonshire St. and De Soto Ave. The number for the unification center is (818) 678-3422. The public has been advised to keep the area clear for emergency personnel and family members.

Both trains were derailed Friday afternoon. Seven freight cars derailed, and the locomotive and one passenger car of the Metrolink train were knocked over. The collision occurred at approximately 4:23 p.m. The cause of the collision was not known.

The collision happened near Rinaldi Street, east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and west of Canoga Avenue near Stoney Point Park, just south of the 118 Freeway near the Ventura County line. Firefighters set up a triage staging area at the park.

L.A. City Fire Dept. Spokesperson d'Lisa Davies said the Coroner's Office confirmed 10 dead as of 9 p.m. Friday. Thirty to 35 injured patients have been airlifted to hospitals around the county. No children have been reported involved in the collision. It is estimated there may be as many as 100 people injured.

Davies said heavy moving equipment was on its way to the scene of the collision in order to right the derailed Metrolink car to search for further victims in the train or underneath. Search dogs were also on the way to the scene to help in inaccessible areas.

One firefighter was overcome with exhaustion earlier in the day, Davies said. That firefighter was transported to a hospital and was since recovering.

L.A. City Fire Department Chief Dennis Barry spoke at a news conference at 8:40 p.m. Barry reported that there was a hazardous-material situation from the crash from leaking fuel. Firefighters were able to gain control over the haz-mat situation and douse the burning cars.

There were 250 firefighters on scene, said Barry. Civilians were among the firefighters and police that helped pull victims from the commuter train shortly after it crashed. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa arrived on scene in the early evening for a briefing from incident officials. He spoke to reporters at the triage area in the park. Mayor Villaraigosa estimated there may be as many as 10 to 15 fatalities and 50 to 60 injuries, but those numbers were not confirmed, and the number was expected to rise. The L.A. Fire Dept. is running the unified command, according to the mayor.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca confirmed that the County Sheriff's Dept. was "effectively working for the city" during the rescue efforts. Sheriff Baca said a uniformed deputy sheriff was onboard the train during the collision and sounded the alarm. That deputy was uninjured.

According to Metrolink Spokesperson Denise Tyrrell, Metrolink train #111 originated out of Union Station in L.A. It was estimated that 350 passengers were on the train. Metrolink train #111 normally travels to Moorpark in Ventura County.

According to Tyrrell, the rest of the Metrolink train service is still operating with normal localized delays. Tyrrell stressed that the Metrolink emergency information line, (800) 371-5465, was for family members only.

According to a Union Pacific spokesperson, there are typically two crew members on each freight train voyage, the conductor and the engineer, both of whom occupy the lead locomotive engine. The spokesperson said the company had not yet been in contact with anyone from the stricken freight train.

The locomotive car of the Metrolink train pulled (not pushed) the rest of the commuter train. The collision was severe enough to push the locomotive car into the passenger car behind it. Three passenger cars were attached to the locomotive. The passenger cars do not have seatbelts for riders.

According to Tyrrell, Metrolink passenger cars weigh approximately 119 tons. The locomotive engines weigh approximately 450 tons.

Tyrrell said there was no word yet from the conductor of the Metrolink train. Conductors are sub-contractors and do not work directly for Metrolink.

The Union Pacific freight train had passed through a tunnel through the Santa Susana Pass that connects Simi Valley to Chatsworth. Metrolink Spokesperson Tyrrell said the tracks are used by Metrolink, Amtrak and freight trains.

The Metrolink train's lead engine car could be seen on fire minutes after the crash. Firefighters doused the flames at the scene quickly.

Firefighters could be seen breaking windows to reach and rescue passengers inside one Metrolink passenger car.

A Sikorsky helicopter was at the scene Friday evening. The large helicopter is sometimes called a "floating hospital." An LAPD mobile sub-station arrived at approximately 6:40 p.m. Fire trucks were using Rinaldi St. as an access road to the crash.

Medics arrived quickly on scene after the crash. Several victims could be seen being treated at the scene by emergency personnel immediately after the crash.

At Stoney Point Park at the end of Heather Lee Lane, rescuers set up red, yellow and green and color-coded tarpaulins to distinguish the different injuries: Immediate (red), Delayed (yellow), and Minor (green). Helicopters were conducting airlifts from the parking lot of Stoney Point Park.

A Valleywide Tactical Alert was called by authorities, which puts all LAPD officers in the region on active duty to tend to the emergency. The alert is standard procedure. The alert expired around 9:30 p.m.

A huge crowd of firefighters could be seen swarming over passenger cars, extracting crash victims in an organized, orderly fashion.

"L.A. County is the most organized when it comes to mutual assistance," said L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca after arriving at the scene.

UCLA Medical Center has pointed out the need for blood donation at this time. People can donate blood to UCLA Medical Center between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information on donating blood, go to the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center.


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