Skip to comments.Metrolink: Engineer Responsible For Deadly Crash
Posted on 09/13/2008 5:20:07 PM PDT by BenLurkin
LOS ANGELES (CBS) ― A commuter train engineer who ran a stop signal was blamed Saturday for the nation's deadliest rail disaster in 15 years, a wreck that killed at least 25 people with more bodies still to be pulled from the smoldering, twisted metal.
A preliminary investigation found that "it was a Metrolink engineer that failed to stop at a red signal and that was the probable cause" of Friday's collision with a freight train in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said. She said she believes the engineer, whose name was not released, is dead.
"When two trains are in the same place at the same time somebody's made a terrible mistake," said Tyrrell, who was shaking and near tears as she spoke with reporters.
Emergency crews found more victims early Saturday, as they delicately picked apart the mangled wreckage of a commuter train that collided head-on with a freight train on the same track.
More victims were feared trapped in the wrecked Metrolink commuter train. About 135 people were injured.
Los Angeles police Officer Spree Desha, 35, was among those killed in the crash. She joined the department in 2001 and worked at North Hollywood Division. Most recently she was assigned to the department's Office of Operations.
Dozens of police officers at the scene of the crash stood solemnly near the crash site, knowing that a comrade had died in the wreckage. As Desha's body was removed from the train, firefighters carried the stretcher to the waiting hands of LAPD officers, who then carried their fallen comrade past a long line of saluting officers and sheriff's deputies.
The impact of the crash rammed the Metrolink engine backward into a passenger car, which rested on its side with the engine still inside it early Saturday, and accordioned the freight train cars. Two other Metrolink cars remained upright. Crews had to put out a fire under part of the train.
It was the deadliest U.S. passenger train accident in 15 years,
During the night, the teams used hydraulic jacks to keep the passenger car from falling over and other specialized rescue equipment to gently tear apart the metal.
Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said the goal was to eliminate every piece of metal and gradually work down into the passenger spaces, but by midnight crews were just getting through the top deck of the double-decker train.
"There's human beings in there and it's going to be painstaking to get them out," Ruda said. "They'll have to surgically remove them."
His firefighters had never seen such carnage, he said. The crews would have to work carefully to document the incident for investigators and so relatives could identify bodies, Ruda said.
Officials say there were 222 people on the Metrolink train and four Union Pacific employees aboard the freight train.
"This is the worst accident I've ever seen," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "Clearly the injuries are going to mount and so are the fatalities."
Kulm said the federal investigation will be headed by the National Transportation Safety Board, while his agency will conduct a review of whether any federal rail safety regulations were violated.
Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond said it is common in California for freight and commuter trains to be on one track.
"You see it a lot in California where commuter trains share tracks with freight trains," Richmond said, adding she couldn't speculate about the cause of the crash.
Dr. Marc Eckstein, medical director for the city Fire Department, said 135 people were taken to hospitals -- about 85 of them in serious or critical condition.
In the initial hours after the disaster, firefighters treated the injured at three triage areas near the wreck, and helicopters flew in and out of a nearby landing area on evacuation flights. Dazed and injured passengers sat on the ground and wandered about.
Leslie Burnstein saw the crash from her home and heard screams of agony as she ran through a haze of smoke toward the wreckage. She pulled victims out one by one.
"It was horrendous," said Burnstein, a psychologist. "Blood was everywhere. ... I heard people yelling, screaming in pain, begging for help."
Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said the Metrolink train left Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and was headed northwest to Moorpark in Ventura County. The trains collided at about 4:30 p.m. in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley, near a 500-foot-long tunnel underneath Stoney Point Park.
On the north side of the tunnel, there is a siding, a length of track where one train can wait for another to pass, Tyrrell said.
Until Friday, the worst disaster in Metrolink's history occurred on Jan. 26, 2005, in suburban Glendale when a man parked a gasoline-soaked SUV on railroad tracks. A Metrolink train struck the SUV and derailed, striking another Metrolink train traveling the other way, killing 11 people and injuring about 180 others. Juan Alvarez was convicted this year of murder for causing the crash.
That was the worst U.S. rail tragedy since March 15, 1999, when an Amtrak train hit a truck and derailed near Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100.
The local news said he was sending Text Messages.
Witnesses are saying that Metrolink 111 would “always” wait at the Chatsworth station for the Leesdale Local to pass, but this video shows otherwise:
“Metrolink 111 meets the Leesdale Local”
It would not be too difficult to put something in place to stop the train if it approaches a stop light.
The engineer was sending text messages while he was piloting the train? Yikes!
Why not release the name?
Horrific crash. I thought there were electronic or mechanical fail safes now in place rather than just a red light to keep two trains from using the same track.
He was sending text messages?? Oh my gosh.
If he hadn’t died in this crash, he would surely be wishing he were among the dead.
So very sad.
I ride this trian everyday and have for a decade now. I took off Friday for my kid’s birthday. There are a lot of sidings and switches along the route and commuter trains share the rails with the freight trains. Sometimes we have to wait at a signal but usually the schedule is clear and we just stop at the stations. How can an engineeer miss a signal like this? Shouldn’t an alarm go off? All the trains have GPS, etc.
I find it hard to believe any Metrolink engineer would miss a signal.
But I guess there is no other explanation?
I wonder if this is true? Did the text-message-reciever person show up and prove this?
If they're on the same track headed toward each other, there's no other way to collide but "head-on".
Prayers up for all those affected...
More than a decade ago, all Conrail locomotives had a "dead man switch." If the engineer failed to obey a wayside signal (to stop, for instance) the engine would stop, immediately.
Obviously, this commuter train did not have a dead man switch. The engineer failed to obey the signals. The train did not stop automatically. Why didn't it have that switch? In the Amtrak case, it was union opposition to such switches.
my first question also. loved ones notified first maybe? legal reasons? not sure of his name? or...........
It sort of sounded like it. One minute before the crash a text message was sent. Or perhaps records from the cell carrier. Although I would imagine the stop sign was missed before that. A minute doesn’t seem long enough to slow down a train and pull off to a siding. I suppose he could have been sending several.
They also said text messaging cause the below accident but wasn't the case. (one train rear-ended another)
my first question also. loved ones notified first maybe? legal reasons? not sure of his name? or...........
After so many similar crashes over the years, and so many possible technical solutions that could have been effected long ago, it is astonishing that it is still possible for two trains to be in the same place at the same time.
I’m pretty sure NYC subway trains have automatic systems installed.... after a similar wreck a few years ago. May not be practical on commercial rail lies.
see post 26
In this day and age, I would think we have the technology to make it impossible for a train engineer to run a red light. While it might not be practical or cost effective everywhere, I would think that in very high traffic areas it would be. In addition to stupid carelessness (like the texting while driving a train that’s been reported as a possibility here), what if an engineer suddenly has a heart attack or brain aneurysm burst? Sure these things are rare in people who’ve had annual physicals and not shown warning signs, but killing 25 people, seriously injuring many more, and shutting down a Los Angeles area commuter rail line and freight line for at least a couple of days is not the sort of thing that should be allowed to happen if there’s a reasonable way to avoid it. So much is automated on these trains, you’d they could automate brakes activating if a red light is passed — perhaps with a manual override, so that if some unusual circumstance exists (e.g. light known to be malfunctioning), the engineer could release it or even manually stop it from engaging in the first place.
Well, of course it wouldnt always wait for the Leesdale Local at that station....I imagine the local would sometimes be late, or train 111 would be late.
What this video shows is what happened that day. The Metrolink train can leave the station and travel north a distance until he hits the red signal, and end of double tracking.
Now, what usually happens is the dispatcher will tell the engineer he will have a meet at Chatsworth (which is the name of the entire length of track, not just the station)
I dont know if that happened Friday or not.
There is that technology. First of all, there is a “dead mans” technology built into the locomotive...if one of the controls or an “alert button? isnt presses every 30 seconds, the engine starts to slow. The conductor (or any passenger for that matter) can pull the emergency cord and start an emergency stop from any car (called dumping the brakes)
As for anti collision technology, it does exist. But it is very expensive, and deemed “not worth it”. I am sure some pencil pusher figure it would cost less to payout the lawsuits than outfit every train engine in North America with the technology.
I am pretty sure the Northeast Corridor has this technology installed.
9/12/2008 - Robert Sanchez runs a red light and kills 25+ passengers on his train, possibly while text messaging on his cell phone
5/4/2007 - Jorge Miguel Romero fails to brake for slowing traffic, crashing his fully loaded semi into a minivan on I-5 and killing 3 children
1/26/2005 - Juan Manuel Alvarez intentionally parks his Jeep on commuter train tracks, causing a catastrophic wreck that kills 11
(Anyone have the name of the driver involved in the Grapevine tanker fire?)
I probably dont have to tell you that texting is against the RR rules.
1.10 Games, Reading, or Electronic Devices
Unless permitted by the railroad, employees on duty must not:
Read magazines, newspapers, or other literature not related to their duties.
Use electronic devices not related to their duties.
Miguel Romero fails to brake for slowing traffic...
Juan Manuel Alvarez intentionally parks his Jeep on commuter train tracks...
(Anyone have the name of the driver involved in the Grapevine tanker fire?)
No, but probably another one of those damn Canadians I betcha...
Why am I not surprised?
You say it’s against the RR rules but it says if the railroad permits... does Metrolink permit this? Is this a perk they got for their union boys?
Yes, it was a teenager, part of a group of boy “train - addicts”
No, Metrolink doesnt permit it. The GCOR is the universal operating rules for the West. There is another rule book for the East Coast. Perhaps you remember the Amtrak train that rear ended the freight train in Chicago a while ago, with 4 engineers in the cab. They went from trackage that used one rule book, to trackage that used another rule book and slammed into a parked train on the same track ahead of them.
I think I know that kid and his friend....never met, but I know the user names.
Yes, and he was interviewed on Ch 2. Picture of his phone with the text here:
“The Amtrak crash at Chase, Md., which killed 25 people and injured about 200, may have had a similar cause. In the Amtrak case, a Conrail engineer “ran through a stop sign” and wound up on the track in front of a speeding north-bound passenger train, the Colonial.
More than a decade ago, all Conrail locomotives had a “dead man switch.” If the engineer failed to obey a wayside signal (to stop, for instance) the engine would stop, immediately.
Obviously, this commuter train did not have a dead man switch. The engineer failed to obey the signals. The train did not stop automatically. Why didn’t it have that switch? In the Amtrak case, it was union opposition to such switches.”
Billybob, I generally respect your postings, but have to respond to this because most of your facts are wrong.
In the Chase wreck, the Conrail engine move was running east, same direction as passenger train #94. The leading Conrail engine had cab signals, but did not have them hooked in with the air to result in a penalty if the engineman failed to acknowledge a downward change in the cab signal. That was the _normal_ arrangement on Conrail locomotives in 1987 (I worked for them prior to that date, and afterwards, although I was working for Amtrak on the day of the crash).
The cab signal “whistles” on some engines could be ear-splitting and overpowering, and did not automatically “cut out” when locomotives were running in a trailing position. Often, brakemen riding in the second cab would “tape them over” to reduce the noise they made, since they couldn’t be completely shut off.
It happened that the lead unit on the Conrail lite move on _this_ particular day DID have the cab signal whistle taped over.
By the way, the cab signal whistle had NOTHING to do with the “deadman feature” of the locomotive, which was a foot pedal the engineman had to keep depressed. Take your foot off, and within 6 seconds, you’d get a “penalty application”, applying the brakes and stopping the train.
The crew of the lite engines that morning was at fault for using drugs and not paying attention to what was going on in front of them. They missed the “Approach” signal prior to the Stop Signal at Gunpow interlocking, and then probably saw the Stop Signal - but too late. I believe the engineman “dumped” the locomotives (put the brakes into emergency), but lite locomotives have the highest weight-to-brake ratio of anything on the rails and DO NOT stop quickly. The result was that they passed the signal, ran through the switch to the track #94 was approaching on, and came to a stop - IN FRONT OF THE ONCOMING TRAIN, which was running at 125+ mph. The passenger train engineman saw events transpiring in front of him, and dumped HIS train, but again, 12 passenger cars and two locomotives moving at 100+mph take some distance to stop, even in emergency. We saw the results.
After the wreck, the cab signals were interconnected to the air brakes so that failure to acknowledge a cab signal change would result in a penalty application. Also, the grating “air whistles” were changed to “electronic warblers” that automatically cut out on trailing cabs.
I guarantee you that the locomotive on the Metrolink train has safety apparatus that is FAR more sophisticated than that of engines (both freight and passenger) at the time of the Chase wreck. The old-fashioned “deadman pedal” has now been replaced by electronic “alertors” that monitor the movement of controls, and require acknowledgement if nothing is detected within a specific time interval (often based on how fast the locomotive is moving).
To say that the the “Amtrak unions” are “opposed” to such switches is ridiculous. I happen to BE an “Amtrak union member” (though I don’t much care for union politics), and a federally-certified locomotive engineman, and very very few of them would intentionally defeat or workaround a safety system desigined to save their own lives. After all, if a train is wrecked, who gets there first?
You are correct, of course, in stating that the engineman “failed to obey the signals”. This wreck illustrates how quickly things can go wrong if one isn’t paying attention up there to the things that NEED to be paid attention to.
There’s an old song that goes:
Life is like a mountain railroad
With an engineer that’s brave
We must make the run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Watch the hills, the curves, the tunnels
Never falter, never fail
Keep your hand upon the throttle
And your eye upon the rail
True back when it was written.
Still true today...
“No, Metrolink doesnt permit it. The GCOR is the universal operating rules for the West. There is another rule book for the East Coast. Perhaps you remember the Amtrak train that rear ended the freight train in Chicago a while ago, with 4 engineers in the cab. They went from trackage that used one rule book, to trackage that used another rule book and slammed into a parked train on the same track ahead of them.”
I believe in the incident you are describing, there were only two persons in the cab. One was an engineman (a lady, actually) who was “outlawed” (over the 12-hour limit of work mandated by the FRA), and the other was her “relief”.
The relief guy operated in territory in which the signal aspect “red over yellow” (on a high mast) meant “Medium Approach” (30mph signal indication).
The gal who was out of time was brand-new, but familiar with the territory the train was actually operating in, where the EXACT SAME signal aspect “red over yellow” (on a high mast) was “Restricting” (15mph looking out for trains ahead).
The guy called it wrong, she tried to correct him, he rebuffed her, she didn’t respond by dumping the train, and .... bang!
A common conservative statement is that “words mean things”.
Well, signals mean things, too.
The problem is when the same signal means different things in different areas, and you have to operate OVER those different territories and keep everything straight in your head....
They may regret trashing the engineer’s reputation before they have even completed the investigation. Sure, that may indeed be what happened, but it very well may not. It would even have been better to just acknowledge that it was “possible” that he missed the signal, but to go further and state that they believe that’s what happened... could be a mistake.
If it turns out to be a malfunctioning signal or switch at the siding caused by a dysfunctional maintenance program... they’re going to look worse for instantly laying blame on the dead guy.
The Interlocking was the point where four tracks narrowed to two, to cross the Gunpowder River. With the north-bound freight engine dead on the switch, the Colonial was doomed when it came around the final turn. The Colonial had gotten the high ball, for full speed at 90 MPH, from the distant signal, 2 miles from the River.
As with most disasters, it was not a single failure at a single time. But it is clear that the removal of the dead man's switch from the freight engines, about 11 years prior to the crash, which ALLOWED the disaster to occur. And the rail unions insisted on that elimination.
I watched Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a press conference on this tragedy - and, well, he’s no Bobby Jindal.
“As with most disasters, it was not a single failure at a single time. But it is clear that the removal of the dead man’s switch from the freight engines, about 11 years prior to the crash, which ALLOWED the disaster to occur. And the rail unions insisted on that elimination”
Again, you are wrong, John.
EVERY Conrail engine in 1987 had a “deadman” pedal. I RAN those engines. It was not interconnected to the cab signals. It WAS connected to the air brake apparatus. You had to keep downward pressure on it with your foot. Some guys “blocked them” with an air hose, but I never did. If your foot slipped off the deadman, you’d get a whistle alert, and if you didn’t re-apply pressure within about 6 seconds, it would activate something called the “P2A” valve and you’d get a penalty brake application.
The cab signal apparatus was connected to an air whistle. Connections existed to interconnect the cab signal apparatus to the air brake system, but - at the time - that feature was NOT interconnected. It is _possible_ that at some previous point in the past, that it had once been connected, and then DISconnected. All I can say is that from the time I hired out (1979) through 1987, a downward change in cab signals would not produce a penalty application - at least on Conrail freight locomotives. I cannot speak for the locomotives on other railroads, only my own.
The “deadman’s switch” was NEVER “removed” from freight locomotives. It was always there, and it was there on the day of the wreck.
Those particular Conrail engines that were involved (B-37’s, I believe) were nearly new at the time. They had a big, wide foot pedal for the deadman that was easy to rest your foot on. But they DID have that.
As I said, it was AFTER the wreck that Conrail changed their cab signal apparatus so that the old-style warning whistle was replaced with an electronic warbler, and they made the connections to the air brake equipment so that a downward change in cab signals had to be acknowledged, or a penalty would result. I ran the modified equipment, too.
AP story 14 minutes ago:
“Some officials see ‘rush to judgment’ in deadly L.A. rail crash - Investigators work to unravel train crash causes”
Thank you for pinging me.