Train collision proves deadly

At least 25 people killed, more than 130 injured in “horrific” train wreck in California.

BY PJ HELLER | CHATSWORTH, CA | September 13, 2008

A passenger train and freight train collided Friday afternoon, killing 10 to 15 people and injuring up to 70 others, some of them critically, officials reported.

The crash involved a Metrolink passenger train which was estimated to be carrying 350 to 400 people and a Union Pacific freight train. The impact from the collision trapped dozens of passengers in the wreckage, derailed several cars and sparked a fierce fire.

One of the passengers aboard Friday's train was reported to be a priest. His son told a TV reporter that he was "banged up" but was remaining on the site to assist the injured and to administer last rites.

"He's just helping out as much as he can," his son said.

Other passengers on the train who were uninjured assisted others who were hurt.

The cause of the collision was not immediately determined. Passenger and freight trains in California often share the same track.

The Metrolink train, #111, left Union Station in Los Angeles at 3:35 p.m. and was en route to Moorpark in Ventura County. The collision occurred about 4:30 p.m. just west of the Chatsworth station in the San Fernando Valley. Metrolink officials said the two trains collided head-on. One firefighter described the scene as "total destruction."

As many as five hospitals — UCLA Medical Center, Northridge Medical Center, Holy Cross Medical Center, Mission Hills Hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Simi Valley Hospital — were treating the injured, according to reports from the scene.

The number of fatalities and injured continued to climb into the evening. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at least 10 to 15 people had been killed with other officials saying the toll could be as high as 20 as the search for victims continued into the night. Metrolink reported that more than 70 people were injured while others put the number at between 30 and 40.

Authorities late Friday night were still attempting to gather names of passengers in order to inform family members who had gathered at Chatsworth High School. Crisis response teams were also on scene to assist the families.

The crash was expected to be the worst in Metrolink history. In January 2005, 11 people were killed and nearly 200 injured when a Metrolink train struck an SUV that was parked on the tracks in Glendale, then derailed, colliding with another Metrolink train coming from the opposite direction. The driver of the SUV, Juan Alvarez, was convicted of murder for causing the crash and sentenced to life in prison.

Two people, an engineer and a conductor, were reported aboard the Union Pacific freight. Their condition was not known.

More than 100 firefighters, police and paramedics responded to the scene.

Firefighters climbed atop the passenger cars of the train, using their hands and power tools to pry open the cars to reach the injured. Heavy machinery was called in to remove the wreckage.

A spokesperson for Metrolink said Saturday, "At this time, Metrolink's preliminary investigation has revealed that yesterday's incident may have been the result of human factors and/or the railroad signal system on Metrolink's part. We will be working with the NTSB to complete a thorough investigation as to the exact cause of yesterday's collision."

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