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Calif. Train Collision Kills Two

April 23, 2002

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PLACENTIA, Calif. (AP) _ A freight train plowed head-on into a Southern California commuter train during the morning rush hour Tuesday, hurling people out of their seats. Two people were killed and at least 260 injured, many of them left dazed and bloodied.

Witnesses said the Metrolink commuter train came to a halt just before the crash. A passenger identified as Jim Fleming told KCAL-TV that the engineer came running through the car.

``There was a silence and he was yelling, `Everybody get down, get down!′ I thought maybe there was a bomb on board. ... Then all of a sudden we hit,″ Fleming said.

Authorities were investigating how the trains ended up on the same track. It was the nation’s second deadly train wreck in less than a week.

The accident happened just after 8 a.m., 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The southbound Metrolink train was traveling from Riverside to San Juan Capistrano with more than 300 passengers when it collided with a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight en route from Los Angeles to Clovis, N.M., with 67 loaded containers.

Commuters were thrown out of their seats by the thundering impact, and passengers, many of them bleeding, scrambled to help others out of the double-deck Metrolink cars.

``I was thrown forward onto my knees with my face into the seat, and I was just confused. I just saw darkness and I didn’t know what happened,″ passenger Kim Bailey said.

Passenger Bill Marin said some riders, apparently thinking the train had reached its next station, stood up when it came to a halt and were the most seriously injured.

Robert Kube, 59, of Moreno Valley died at the scene. Another passenger, a 48-year-old man, died at a hospital. His name was not immediately released.

Officials said 162 people were taken to hospitals; 19 were reported to have serious injuries.

Witnesses said the collision knocked the Metrolink train back at least 100 feet and pushed the first two cars off the track. Mark Brown, running from his automobile, saw passengers clambering out the windows of the buckled cars. He forced his way into one of the cars and froze.

``It was utter chaos inside,″ he said. ``When you walked in and saw that carnage, you had to stop and catch your breath.″

Stunned passengers clutched their heads. Others didn’t move. Some punched 911 on their cell phones.

Brian Scharr, pastor at Yorba Linda Friends Church, watched the crash from his car as he waited for the trains to pass. He said he helped a pregnant woman from the train, then knelt with her and prayed.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators from Washington. It was the worst accident in the nine-year history of Metrolink, which carries 32,000 passengers on 128 trains daily.

The train’s three passenger cars were being pushed by an engine operated from a cab in the forward passenger car, spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said. She said she did not know how fast the trains were going.

The Metrolink route is handled by dispatchers from Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns and maintains the stretch of track.

``Train dispatchers work very much like air traffic controllers,″ Gavin said. ``They have a screen in front of them where they can see train traffic for miles around. That’s why this incident is such a puzzle.″

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe runs 55 freight trains a day along the line, which connects Los Angeles and Chicago. Metrolink runs 15 trains through the area every day.

Last Thursday, the Amtrak Auto Train derailed in northern Florida, killing four people. The engineer has said he braked after spotting misaligned rails ahead. The investigation is continuing.

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On the Net:

http://www.metrolinktrains.com

http://www.ntsb.gov