Signal Eyed in Deadly Calif. Train Crash

ByABC News
April 23, 2002, 1:06 PM

April 23 -- A freight train that may have missed a signal collided with a Los Angeles commuter train at rush hour this morning, killing two and injuring more than 265 others.

The Metrolink commuter train was traveling through Placentia in Orange County when it apparently stopped, and a northbound freight train hit its front passenger car just after 8 a.m., derailing two cars and buckling another.

The Metrolink train No. 809 was heading south from West Corona station to Anaheim Canyon, when a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train struck it going about about 35 mph.

A 59-year-old man riding in the front car was killed, and a 48-year-old man died in the third car, officials said.

A government source close to the probe told ABCNEWS that early indications are the freight engineer may have run a signal, causing the fatal collision.

Officials said some 265 people suffered injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones. As many as 75 passengers were sent to local trauma centers and the rest were being treated at triage centers alongside the crash site.

About 300 passengers were on the train at the time of the accident, a Metrolink spokeswoman said.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Metrolink are investigating how the two trains wound up on the same track.

Metrolink officials were puzzled by the crash.

"Train dispatchers work very much like air traffic controllers; 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, and why it will be under investigation," said Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin.

People Flying All Over the Place

The impact of the crash bent the first car. Officials say the commuter train's driver saw the freight train and stopped the car, warning passengers just before impact. Onlookers screamed at the freight train to stop.

"I was on the phone with my wife, and I was just kind of kidding that 'I hope these trains are on different tracks,'" said Brian Char, a motorist who had stopped at a crossing gate waiting for the train to pass. "Just about the time I had said that, I noticed the Metrolink almost come to a stop if not at a stop, right at the intersection. The larger train just collided right into them."