Metrolink Commuter Train Crash Caused by Engineer’s Failure to Stop
A Metrolink commuter train carrying 222 people crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth at 4:32pm Friday evening, September 12th. As of Saturday afternoon, September 13th, 24 people were confirmed dead and 135 others were injured. Eighty-one passengers in critical or serious condition were transported to 12 different hospitals equipped with trauma centers. Many of the injuries sustained were crush injuries.
According to a preliminary investigation, the Metrolink train engineer ran a red signal. Early investigations indicate the engineer’s failure to stop at the stop signal was the probable cause of the accident. According to Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell, “When two trains are in the same place at the same time somebody’s made a terrible mistake.” It is believed that the Metrolink engineer died in the crash.
The crash happened in an area where the tracks curve into a “U” shape. At the top of the bend is a 500 ft tunnel that runs beneath Stony Point Park. On the north side of the tunnel is a siding, a length of track where one train can wait while another train passes. An engineering professor from USC indicated that this stretch of track is part of an 18-mile length of track is known to have had a number of crossing accidents within the past 10 years.
Metrolink is admitting their engineer’s failure to observe the red signal was the cause of the accident. Tyrrell indicated that, “even if the train is on the main track, it must go through a series of signals and each one of the signals must be obeyed.” “What we believe happened, barring any new information from the NTSB, is we believe that our engineer failed to stop … and that was the cause of the accident.” The cause was determined by reviewed dispatch records and computers.
According to train engineers familiar with the length of track where the accident occurred, engineers are warned twice with yellow lights before reaching a red light at the end of the siding. The engineer involved in the crash worked for a subcontractor, Veolia, used by Metrolink since 1998, but the engineer involved had operated Metrolink trains since 1996. It was not immediately known whether the engineer had a history of any prior problems or disciplinary issues.
The accident is the deadliest railway accident to occur in the U.S. in over 15 years. Until this accident, the worst crash in Metrolink’s history occurred in 2005, when Juan Alvarez parked a gasoline-soaked SUV on the train’s tracks in Glendale. The impact killed 11 people and injured 180 others. Unlike the Glendale tragedy, which involved a criminal act, the crash in Chatsworth appears to be the result of human error and negligence on the part of the Metrolink engineer.
The Metrolink train departed Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and was bound for Moorpark when the crash occurred in the Chatsworth area of San Fernando Valley. The Metrolink train was being pulled by the locomotive, not pushed. Pushing locomotives are controversial due to claims that this method makes the train more vulnerable in an accident.
The force of the impact caused the locomotive car to be pushed back into the commuter car and toppled the Metrolink train on its side. The passenger car was a Bombardier BiLevel Coach, a double-decker car capable of carrying up to 160 passengers. Two other passenger cars remained upright. The Union Pacific train’s engine also crashed onto its side and derailed. Three crew members were aboard the Union Pacific train and their fate is unknown.
A spokeswoman from Union Pacific stated it is common in California for freight trains and passenger trains to share the same tracks. According to a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will head the federal investigation into the crash. The FRA will conduct an investigation into whether or not any rail safety regulations were violated.
For over 60 years, Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy has represented the interests of accident victims. The firm was founded in 1946 by Raoul D. Magaña, who began his practice protecting the legal rights of injured railroad workers at a time when most were not fairly compensated for their losses. The firm has successfully represented victims of mass transit accidents and railroad train accidents, including Amtrak crash victims. We extend our deepest sympathy to those who were injured or lost in this tragic accident and their families.