Train wreck in Placentia, CA

Dwightman Apr 23, 2002

  1. watash

    watash Passed away March 7, 2010 TrainBoard Supporter In Memoriam

    Back in my roundhouse days I remember hearing several storys about when runaway cars and trains were sometimes successfully saved or stopped by another engine (steam of course), charging up hill to meet them, then being able to reverse and allow the runaway to catchup and gently save the day by slowing the speed. One in particular was a passenger string coasting from the top of a 14 mile down hill run, that was saved this way without any loss of life. The engineer that went up to meet the cars was the one who told me the tale. I always thought it would have made an excellent movie!
  2. rush2ny

    rush2ny TrainBoard Member

    Freight Ran the Red:

    A freight train ran a red light moments before Tuesday's deadly crash with a commuter train, but investigators stopped short of blaming human error.

    ``There is no question the Burlington Northern train should have stopped,'' National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Marion Blakey said Wednesday.

    Two died and more than 260 were injured in the crash during morning rush hour. Some Metrolink passengers were thrown from their seats; others clambered out windows of the double-decker commuter train.

    Blakey said the freight train rolled through the signal at 48 mph, hitting the commuter train, which was stopped at the crossing. Investigators found no problems with railroad signals, equipment or the tracks, she said.

    The freight train began braking about 1,700 feet before the crash, and had slowed to 20 mph at impact. The Metrolink engineer saw the other engine coming and halted the commuter train, Blakey said.

    ``He did have time to leave the cab to proceed toward the back of the first car and warn the passengers,'' she said.

    Investigators are interviewing crew members of both trains and pulling personnel records and work schedules. ``We want to look particularly at that 72-hour window before the crews came on duty to see what may have factored in in terms of their performance,'' Blakey said.

    Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Richard Russack withheld comment on the agency's findings.

    ``We have participated fully with the NTSB in the investigation so far and we will continue to participate and we will wait until the final report is produced before we make any further comment,'' he said.

    After the commuter train halted at the crossing, some riders, apparently thinking the train had reached its next station, stood up, according to passenger Bill Marin, 50.

    NTSB investigators believe the freight train's brakes were working properly, Blakey said, adding that the train's crew applied them 1,700 feet before the crash.

    The freight train's crew - an engineer and conductor - jumped from their locomotive just before the accident. Blakey said drug and alcohol tests were given to the train crews and the dispatcher on the route, as is routine after a crash.

    NTSB investigators retrieved the event recorders that provide mechanical data on the trains, such as speed, braking maneuvers and use of horns at the time of the crash. Recorded radio conversations between the dispatcher and the crews also will be analyzed, Blakey said.

    Russack said the freight train was en route from Los Angeles to Clovis, N.M., and carried 67 loaded containers. The train company owns and maintains the stretch of rail where the crash occurred.

    Southbound Metrolink 809 was traveling from Riverside to San Juan Capistrano on a route that has 12 trains and 3,000 passenger boardings each day.
  3. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    looking at this from the publicly reported stories, it would seem to me the freight
    crew blew off two or possibly three signal indications. It would seem to me that the engineer failed to comply with an Approach indication which would have meant that his speed would have had to been reduced immediately to 30 mph(he could also have blown by an Approach medium which would
    mean that he would have to decelerate before
    passing the Approach signal). If he came through on a clear board and the blocks are
    short and the commuter train entered their blocks at the wrong time,there is a possibility he could have faced a stop signal with little
    warning. I would have to see the territory.
    I also cant believe the conductor missed it too!
    Every engineer has had a board drop in his
    face(me included), its a hazard of the job but
    knowledge of the territory is also tantamount to safe train handling so that you know where
    there are tricky spots!

  4. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

    I would have thought that as this collision was at a set of crossovers the signal wouldn't have been dropped back to red in front of the freight as the commuter train approached, as the protecting signal for the freight would have been held at red by the conflicting (metrolink) move being set, it certainly would be over here.

    If a dispatcher has set a route & wants to cancel it on a CTC panel in the UK there is a 2 minute lockout before he can set a conflicting route, this ensures that if the dispatcher has dropped a signal back to red "in the face" of an approaching train that he cannot clear another train into the block straightaway without the first train having slid to a stand (cursing at the dispatcher) blocking the track circuits and physically preventing the new route being set. (hope that description made sense!)

    I'm making a presumption here that the same feature exists at US interlockings, but I'm figuring it must do, else there is nothing to prevent a signal being cleared, accepting a train into the block, then being cancelled and a conflicting signal being cleared before the first train has reached a protecting track circuit?

    The only two theories that make any sense to me are a "wrong side" signal failure (showing a /proceed not stop aspect, tends to be pretty rare) or the engineer passing a red, which could be due to a number of things.

    Ed, thanks for posting your story, I'm glad that you & your family were not seriously hurt, and thanks for posting your story. It's always interesting to read accounts from folk who know a little of what's going on when it happens.

    All the best.
  5. Mike Sheridan

    Mike Sheridan TrainBoard Member

    Ed, like the others I'm glad you and your wife escaped serious injury. I hope the shock doesn't affect you for too long. It would certainly take me a while to get back in a train after something like that.

    As an (aircraft) accident investigator in a past job I still have a great interest in the how's and whys of accidents. I noticed on some of the pictures on the news that the BNSF engine was little more than heavy shunted into the Metra (the front handrails were still in place!) - an observation now borne out by the 20mph impact reported above. This made me curious about the death toll and 'twisted metal'. However, seeing the picture above with Ed in it, it appears that the BACK of the first car has folded, like a lorry jacknife. This raises a question in my mind about the strength of these cars. Presumably they are lightweight, which is fine for collisions with similar trains, but when you share a track with heavy freight ?? By chance there is a reference to passenger car strength in the June Trains mag (p30) relating to 'Talgos'. I wonder if that will get revisited now?

    The passing of red lights seems to be taking epidemic proportions - of late the UK has become something of an expert on it. Is it really happening more, or is it just that all the other causes have been reduced so this one sticks out as 'the' big issue?
  6. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

    Yes, the crashworthiness was something I wondered about, and the "twisted metal" quotes didn't make sense to me ( I just thought the car sides had distorted outwards somewhat) till I saw a pic of the other side of the car that was posted (I think) on Trainweb, one body panel on the opposite side has telescoped into itself, thus giving the bend on the visible side, and presumably causing the fatalities & more serious injuries.

    My guess here is that the car is not designed to collapse in a predictable way, but is designed to withstand a given (high) stress level, which was exceeded in this instance.
    Some (not all) UK stock is designed with crumple zones, (usually baggage or vestibule areas which are less likely to be occupied, then the cabs, then the passenger areas) so that if the car is given more energy than it can take, the first areas to fail are those with no people in them. Looking at the Metrolink cars I can't see that this approach would work, as with the double deck design I figure that most of the length is occupied? (thus my earlier guess about designing it not to fail) Interestingly the cab end of the metrolink car was by the looks not seriously distorted either, the collision posts at the front did prevent the loco from entering the cab very well.

    There's some downsides to crumple zones, in commuter cars folk often stand in vestibule area's, also if a serious collision happens the distortion of vestibule area's can make evacuation more difficult.

    I'm also thinking it was very unfortunate that the commuter train was in push mode, it meant the cars were between the moving train and the commuter loco with it's brakes hard on (and presumably providing more brake force than a passenger car due to it's weight?)

    I'd be interested to know when the final report is known, wether that car behaved as expected in that situation, or wether it failing like that was a complete surprise.
  7. Alan

    Alan Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Martyn and Mike, thanks to you both (and others) for well thought out analysis of the crash and possible causes and effects. Very interesting reading. I too look forward to the full report on this incident.
  8. Colonel

    Colonel Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    As a Signal Engineer I have investigated quite a few SPADS (Signals passed at danger) and there are usually several factors that may account for the BNSF train passing the signal at stop.

    I agree with Marty that fundamental signalling principles would not have allowed the signal protecting the junction being cleared with the approaching Metrolink train.

    The signal in the rear comes into play into whether the driver took notice of what indication was being displayed. I believe the BNSf train was doing approx 40 mph on impact which would indicate the driver was expecting the protecting signal to be clear because at that speed he never had a chance to bring his train to a stand at the protecting signal.

    As Charlie stated the local knowledge the driver must utilise is paramount for operating trains but sometimes drivers can be distracted or possibly communicating with a despatcher etc.

    How many people of crossed an intersection and can't remember if the traffic light was actually green? I recall recently a SPAD I attended where the driver was bringing his passenger train through a station and noticed someone acting suspicios on the end of the platform,instead of looking for the approaching signal he kept his eye on this person and ended up Spading on the signal.

    We all must assume the driver of the BNSF train did not purposely pass the signal at stop so it's the mitigating circumstances that need to be investigate to determine the root cause of the accident.

    with accidents like these there is usually a chain of events that leads to disaster.
  9. ten87

    ten87 TrainBoard Member

    Here's a very good descriptive graphic from the Orange County Register.

  10. ten87

    ten87 TrainBoard Member

    For the structural engineers:
  11. Hytec

    Hytec TrainBoard Member

    The two deaths appear to be consistent in the reporting of various media -

    The first death occurred during the impact. However it appears to be due to an apparent heart failure experienced by a man in the #3 car next to the pushing locomotive furthest from the impact zone.

    The second death occured well after the impact to a man being treated in a hospital for injuries sustained during the impact.

    Neither death is being reported as occuring during the moment of impact due to trauma.

    This may be a moot point, but too often the media attempts to create a gruesome image of bodies dangling from tree limbs and other structures throughout the surrounding area.

    I will always maintain that rail travel is one of the safest forms of public transportation. Most passengers walk(!) away from the crash zone! Sadly, this can't be said for most of the commercial air disasters in the past 50-75 years.

    [ 26 April 2002, 01:50: Message edited by: Hank Coolidge ]
  12. ten87

    ten87 TrainBoard Member

    I'm not sure what your point was Hank. Having survived the crash and been inside "ground zero" I can tell you it was plenty gross. I can show you our bloody clothes, and describe the doctor pushing the meat back into my wife's leg. Over on they've got plenty of photos. One particularly gross one is here. I was thinking that the media didn't come close to portraying what I saw in there.

    Still, I have no reservations about riding the train to work tomorrow. If we had been in a car and got hit head on by a truck at that speed it would've been much worse.
  13. signalguy

    signalguy Passed away December 19, 2004 In Memoriam

    If a dispatcher has set a route & wants to cancel it on a CTC panel in the UK there is a 2 minute lockout before he can set a conflicting route, this ensures that if the dispatcher has dropped a signal back to red "in the face" of an approaching train that he cannot clear another train into the block straightaway without the first train having slid to a stand (cursing at the dispatcher) blocking the track circuits and physically preventing the new route being set. (hope that description made sense!)
    All the best.[/QB][/QUOTE]
    In the US cTc systems the locking is either approach or time locking. Most newer systems use time locking. The difference is that approach locking requires no time if the approach circuit is unoccupied. In both types the locking time is determined by the maximum authorized speed, the grade and curviture, distance between signals and the railroads breaking chart for a freight with maximum tonnage. As this was formerly ATSF I would expect time locking to be in use.
  14. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    This is confusing as billyhell!

    The illustration of the crash site shows the
    commuter train west of a signal bridge.
    did the commuter train pass a Stop indication?

    What we need is a track profile of that sub.
    It still seems to me that there could have been
    multiple human error, dispatching included.
    We had some "creative dispatching" on our
    track yesterday afternoon.Nothing dangerous,
    just letting a Z train into the Chicago Area Terminal trackage at the start of the "dinky
    parade". Delayed a number of west and eastbound commuter trains. Our train normally
    has about a 16" turn-around time at Aurora.
    Yesterday it was unload, change ends, load and go! Nothing is more fun than dealing with
    a delayed homebound commuter!!!!
    As I said before, I would have to see the track
    profile with a map scale to better assess the

  15. Big Al

    Big Al TrainBoard Member

    What is the geographic orientation of the tracks at this point? Could the engineer of either train be looking into the bright morning sun or could the sun be directly behind either train? We had an incident last summer were the crew of a local freight was headed due east in late afternoon and passed a red signal that appeared to be yellow because of the angle of the sun on the signal lens/reflector. All three crewmen in the cab saw yellow on what was in fact a red signal. Luckily there were no opposing moves, just a surprised dispatcher.

    Upgrades to LED type signal indicators would solve that problem.
  16. signalguy

    signalguy Passed away December 19, 2004 In Memoriam

    Safetran has an LED color light signal for sale and also a conversion kit for older signals. Go to
  17. ten87

    ten87 TrainBoard Member

    Just an update on the aftermath. Another death has been reported. One pregnant lady lost her child, so in my book the death count is four. My wife is still healing after being impaled in the shin. Plus we still see some arm slings, etc on the platform. We also get about a letter a week from some ambulance (er, train) chasing attorney.


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