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The 2005 Glendale train crash is the second deadliest incident in the history of Metrolink, the commuter railroad in the Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, area. It was overtaken as the deadliest by the 2008 Chatsworth train collisionmarker.

On January 26, 2005 at 6:03 am PST, a Metrolink commuter train collided with a sport utility vehicle that had been abandoned on the tracks near the Los Feliz Blvd. undercrossing next to a Costco Store on the Glendalemarker-Los Angeles boundary in an industrial area, north of downtown Los Angelesmarker. The train jacknifed and struck trains on either side of it, one a stationary Union Pacific freight train and the other a Metrolink train moving in the opposite direction, resulting in the deaths of 11 people.

Juan Manuel Alvarez, who left his Jeep Cherokee Sport on the tracks, was arrested and charged with 11 counts of murder with "special circumstances." Authorities and Alvarez' legal defense claimed Alvarez was planning to commit suicide, but changed his mind at the last minute. Alvarez was convicted in June 2008 of the eleven counts plus one count of arson, and though prosecutors sought a death sentence, was sentenced in August 2008 to 11 consecutive life sentences in prison with no possibility of parole.

Background

In the early morning rush hour period, the northbound train (leaving Los Angeles) normally carries between 30 and 50 passengers; the southbound train (entering Los Angeles) normally carries between 200 and 250 people.

The freight train involved in the accident was "tied up" (parked) on an auxiliary track known as The Slide running parallel along the west side of the main tracks, waiting its turn to deliver track ballast to repair tracks on the former Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Line (so called because it runs along California's coast from Ventura Countymarker through Santa Barbaramarker to San Luis Obispomarker) washed out by major January 2005 rainstorms.

The next day, police intervened in a similar incident in Irvine, Californiamarker where a suicidal man parked his car on Metrolink tracks. The man drove away from the tracks when police arrived and was later arrested, possibly preventing another accident.

Regular Metrolink passenger service was restored through the accident scene the following Monday.

Investigation

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team investigated the crash. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen's (BLET) Safety Task Force, assisted the NTSB. The Glendale Police Department led the criminal investigation, assisted by the Union Pacific Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the criminal case was tried in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The southbound Metrolink train struck the parked Jeep that had been driven by Alvarez onto the tracks at the Chevy Chase Drive grade crossing just west of San Fernando Road ( map), pushing the Jeep southward along the track towards the Los Feliz Blvd. undercrossing until automotive parts struck a track switch and became lodged under the leading car of the Metrolink train, raising it up and causing the train to derail. Cars from the derailed train jackknifed, hitting both the locomotive of the stationary freight train and sideswiping the rear of the moving northbound passenger train. This caused the rear cars of the northbound train to derail, and at least one car rolled over onto its side. A fire, involving one or more passenger cars, was caused by spilled diesel fuel.

The root cause of the accident was attributed to the driver of the automobile, Juan Manuel Alvarez of Compton, Californiamarker, who deliberately drove and left his vehicle onto the tracks while allegedly attempting to commit suicide. Having slashed his wrists and stabbed himself repeatedly in the chest, he parked his car on the tracks to finish the attempt. However, Alvarez changed his mind and attempted to leave the railroad tracks. Because he was unable to dislodge his vehicle from the rain-soaked gravel and slick rails, he abandoned the vehicle moments before the crowded train approached. (There is some speculation that Alvarez may have inflicted the wounds on himself after the crash, based on some early reports by witnesses). Both this causation and the end result have many similarities to that of the Ufton Nervet rail crashmarker in the United Kingdommarker, which occurred only three months previously, although in that case the driver of the car stayed in the vehicle and was killed.

Rumors of the incident being a terrorist attack have been dismissed, as no connections to any terrorist organization exist with the suspect. Links to Chicano street gangs were also dismissed.

Police on the scene found Alvarez wandering the streets repeating "I'm sorry"; they remanded him into custody after determining that it was his vehicle parked on the tracks. Facing 11 counts of murder, he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on February 15, 2005.

On August 26, 2005, prosecutors officially announced that they would seek the death penalty against Alvarez, and were prepared to use a rarely cited "train wrecking" statute in California law, even though trains rarely derail when they hit a car. On June 26, 2008, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found Alvarez guilty of 11 counts of first degree murder with special circumstances.[109024] Alvarez was sentenced to eleven consecutive life prison terms on August 20, 2008.

Reaction

The train wreck called intense attention to the train configuration. Many commuter trains are pushed from the back by the locomotive, including Metrolink trains returning to Los Angeles Union Station; in a "pusher configuration", the first car is a special passenger car with controls for an engineer at the end (sometimes referred to as the "cab car"). The rear-pushed configuration eliminates elaborate turnaround maneuvers and facilities to reverse a train's direction. There was severe criticism that this rear-pushed configuration made the accident worse: many people claimed that if the heavier engine were ahead of the passenger cars, the train would not have jackknifed and cause the second train to derail. This situation is similar to the Selbymarker and Polmontmarker rail crashes in the United Kingdommarker.

Immediately following the accident, Metrolink temporarily roped off the first cars in all of their trains; passengers sat starting in the second car. Metrolink gradually modified this policy, and as of 2007, the line permits passengers to sit in a portion the first car when in "push mode." Seating is not permitted in a roped-off forwardmost section of the first car just behind the engineer's cab.

The incident has inspired a few television series episodes. A May 2005 episode of Law & Order titled "Locomotion" featured a train that hit an SUV and the subsequent investigation. A June 2005 episode of Strong Medicine contained a storyline that referenced the train wreck.

Casualties

A total of 11 passengers were killed in the collision. Between 100 and 200 people were injured. In terms of casualties, the crash had the same death toll as Bourbonnais train accidentmarker on March 15, 1999, making it the deadliest U.S. train crash in almost six years.

Fatalities in this accident were:

In a October 14, 2009 article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, Metrolink announced it had reached an agreement to settle most of the remaining claims. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/10/metrolink-pays-30-million-to-settle-most-case-in-2005-train-crash.html

In remembrance of the accident, all Metrolink train engineers were asked to sound their trains' horns at 12:01 Pacific Time, February 2, 2005, and the former Control Point Metro (milepost 3.3 on the Metrolink River Subdivision) was renamed Control Point Ormiston in memory of the conductor who was killed instantly.

References

  1. [1]


See also



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