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The Chatsworth Metrolink Crash


One of the deadliest train accidents to occur in California happened on 12 September, 2008, in the quiet city of Chatsworth, as reported in the LA Times. The NTSB report of the Chatsworth metrolink crash was recently completed and it reveals a few insights into what may have caused this tragic train accident.

Southern California Regional Rail Authority Metrolink train 111, consisting of one locomotive and three passenger cars, was westbound carrying 225 passengers when it collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train LOF65–12, consisting of 2 locomotives and 17 cars, that was traveling eastbound on the same track.

The collision came on a sharp curve in the city of Chatsworth. The force of the collision caused the locomotive of the Metrolink train to telescope 52 feet into the first passenger coach, derailing both. The Union Pacific train derailed both of its locomotives and 10 of its railroad cars. On the day of the crash, Metrolink officials could not explain why warning systems in place at the time of the Metrolink crash failed to prevent the collision.

Train Accident-Total Destruction

One of the first officials on the scene, Los Angeles City Fire Capt. John Virant, said the train accident was “total destruction . . . chaos.” “They are in there removing dead bodies that are lying on top of survivors,” Virant said. In the first passenger cars, he said, “it was as if somebody had just taken all the seats and thrown them in there.” “I saw it coming,” said a Cal State Northridge administrator, a witness who was riding on the Metrolink when it crashed.

“There was no time to stop,” he said. “The next thing I knew I was in a seat in front of me. It was horrible.” Another witness, a local resident, “I heard a huge crash,” she said. “Then I saw a fireball. I ran over there and there were people lying all over the hill.” Metrolink conductor Bob Hildebrand, one of the injured, was in the rear club car when the trains collided, he said they were going 40 mph and came to a dead stop.

Injured passengers were transported to several nearby hospitals, including Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, Huntington Hospital, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center and Northridge Hospital Medical Center. What happened to cause the Metrolink crash? The following is a synopsis of the NTSB’s findings click here metrolink crash for the complete NTSB report in pdf format.

The NTSB findings for the Metrolink crash are:

1. Considering the challenges of the recovery operations, the emergency response to the train accident was timely, well coordinated, and effectively managed.

2. The westbound signal at CP Topanga was displaying a red aspect at the time Metrolink train 111 departed Chatsworth station and as it approached and passed CP Topanga, and had the engineer complied with this signal indication, the train accident would not have occurred.

3. The signal and traffic control systems worked as designed on the day of the collision, and the dispatcher’s “stacking” of train routes played no role in the train accident.

4. The engineer of train 111 was actively, if intermittently, using his wireless device shortly after his train departed Chatsworth station, and his text messaging activity during this time compromised his ability to observe and appropriately respond to the stop signal at CP Topanga.

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