Southern California commuter train hits truck and derails
BURBANK, Calif. — A Metrolink commuter train smashed into a truck at a crossing Monday morning, turning two rail cars on their sides, killing one person in the truck and injuring 32 people including the engineer.
Witnesses said the small truck turned in front of the train. Authorities said the crossing gates and signals were working at the time.
Specific conditions of the injured were not known. Burbank Fire Department Battalion Chief David Starr said four victims had to be taken to hospitals immediately, eight others were transported on a deferred basis and there were 20 minor injuries.
Train No. 210, carrying 58 passengers and a crew of two from the Santa Clarita Valley south to downtown Los Angeles, hit the truck about 9:30 a.m., said Sharon Gavin, a Metrolink spokeswoman.
The truck exploded in flames at Buena Vista Street and San Fernando Boulevard in Burbank, 10 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The train derailed about 1,000 feet farther down the tracks that parallel San Fernando Boulevard.
“All signals and guard rails were working,” Starr said.
Ryan Schatz, 26, of Valencia was seated on right side of the second Metrolink car when it rolled over.
“I couldn’t see what we hit … I saw the fire go by and that was it,” he said.
Some people were in shock, others screamed and yelled, and others remained calm. Schatz said. “There were quite a few people able to walk out.”
The 450-ton train had four passenger cars and an engine at the rear. In that mode the train is operated by an engineer in a cab of the lead passenger car. Trains typically travel at no more than 50 mph in that area although the tracks are rated for higher speeds.
The train’s data recorder will be examined to determine speed and other information, Gavin said.
The motorist drove onto the tracks at a crossing where the gates were down and the signal lights were flashing, witness Greg Peale told KABC-TV.
“The guy was in the left turn lane … he turned left slowly. The signals were already down and flashing and he just kept going right in front of the train,” Peale said.
Passersby used a metal girder to smash the window of a door on one upended passenger car and help people out.
Off-duty Los Angeles city paramedic Stan Horst and his wife were driving to the Burbank Airport when they saw a cloud of black dust.
“We came around the block and saw what was left … a jigsaw puzzle of cars,” he said.
Horst helped pull people from the cars and treated several. One had a broken arm, another complained of back pain and the third had shortness of breath.
“They felt a pretty big jolt. The train was rocking back and forth and then over it went,” Horst said.
The number of people aboard the train appeared unusually light. Train No. 210 carried more than 90 passengers a day during December.
It appeared to be the worst Metrolink accident since a commuter train was struck by a freight train April 23 in Placentia, killing two people and injuring more than 200.
Investigators believe that crash was caused when the crew of a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe freight train ran two warning signals before plowing into the double-decker Metrolink passenger train. The freight engineer told police he was blinded by the sun and missed a crucial signal light.
Metrolink is a heavy rail commuter service that serves Los Angeles and surrounding counties.