I'm sure by now you have all heard of the catastrophic wreck on Friday, Sep. 12, of a Metrolink train and a freight train in Chatsworth, Calif. Chatsworth isn't really close to Anaheim, but since all of Southern California shares a large media market, it seems local. I know people who live in that area; thankfully none of them lost a loved one on the train. This kind of tragedy is a sobering reminder of how fragile and precarious life can be and how dangerous modern technology sometimes is.
Currently the death toll is at 25, but there are still patients in critical condition so it may rise again. Out of app. 222 Metrolink passengers and crew plus 3 people on the freight train, 135 were injured, 81 in serious or critical condition. It could have been even worse, since each double-decker car holds 150 people sitting down and passengers are allowed to stand in the aisle. This train was apparently only half full. There are no seat belts on the Metrolink trains and people were thrown around, resulting in head, chest and leg injuries. Motor vehicle-style seatbelts might have prevented some of the injuries, particularly in the second and third cars which remained upright. No amount of safety measures could have helped the people in the first car which was rammed by the train's locomotive. We still don't know how fast either train was traveling, but the force of the collision had to be enormous. This is the worst US train wreck in fifteen years since an Amtrak train ran into a bayou near Mobile, Alabama in 1993, killing 47.
All Friday evening, television helicopters hovered over the scene, capturing the horror of the wreck and showing the rescue efforts. Firefighters in yellow safety suits, policemen in dark blue and sheriff's deputies in khaki worked together to carry people from the wreck to a triage area where they were assessed by paramedics before being transported to area hospitals by ambulance or helicopter. It was heartbreaking to watch, but the old cliche about not being able to look away from a train wreck is all too true.
As I write this, it now appears that the wreck may have been caused by human error. Metrolink has issued a statement saying that their engineer, who worked for a private subcontractor, failed to stop at a red light. He didn't survive the crash, so we won't be able to hear what he has to say. We're now hearing rumors that he may have been text messaging a few minutes before the collision. But we shouldn't rush to judgment. I'm sure safety engineers are checking the signal lights to see that they're working properly. It's common in California for commuter trains to share single stretches of track with freight trains. The Metrolink train missed a red light that should have sent it onto a siding to wait for the freight train to pass. But no matter how many safeguards are in place, there's no way to prevent human error. The NTSB is conducting a thorough investigation, but it may take a year for them to issue their report.
My heart goes out to the victims and their family members and to the emergency responders who did such a phenomenal job of rescuing the injured, and worked through the night under dangerous conditions. Special recognition goes to the firemen who had to cut their way into the first car. Fire Captain Steve Ruda "said his firefighters had never seen such carnage". There's no way to be sufficiently trained or psychologically prepared for what they must have witnessed. Coming a day after the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11 didn't make it any easier to watch.
I'll update this post as more information becomes available.
I forgot to mention that My Town Monday comes to us via Travis Erwin. Thanks, Travis! Check out his site to read his latest post and find links to the other participants.