Head-on rail crash in California leaves two dead

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The Independent US

Two people died and more than 260 people were injured in a head-on collision between a freight train and a commuter service in suburban Orange County south of Los Angeles yesterday morning.

The commuter train had come to a halt before the collision, and most of the injuries were relatively minor. But officials said they had sent as many as 75 passengers to hospitals for treatment and two dozen of them were described as in a serious condition.

Firefighters and rescue workers at the scene in Placentia, a small town about eight miles north-east of Disneyland, used ladders to help passengers climb out of the double-decker Metrolink commuter train. Most of the wounded were treated by paramedics on the spot. Television pictures showed a handful looking dazed and wearing neck braces or temporary splints to treat broken bones.

One man, 59, was killed by the impact, a second man, 48, died in hospital, according to the Orange County coroner's office. Some reports suggested the second man had been crushed and remained trapped inside the train for several hours before rescue workers could reach him.

As the freight train crashed into the other service, two carriages carrying passengers buckled and slid off the tracks but remained upright.

Kim Bailey, a passenger, described the train coming to a halt just before the crash. "I was thrown forward on to my knees with my face into the seat, and I was just confused. I just saw darkness and I didn't know what happened," she said.

Another passenger, Gene Ogelsby, said: "Our train stopped and the next thing you know, boom! It hit."

Scott Wilson said: "The train stopped for a couple of seconds. The freight train just hit us. For me, I was facing backward, maybe that's how I ended up being OK."

Sharon Gavin, a spokeswoman for the emergency services, said: "This is obviously a very serious incident and there will be an investigation."

There was no immediate speculation on the cause of the crash, no detailed explanation of why the two trains ended up on the same track or why the freight train did not manage to stop when the commuter train did.

Officials are still examining the circumstances and the engineer's claim that he braked after seeing misaligned tracks ahead.

Up to 300 people were on board the commuter train, on a route from Riverside, a desert suburb about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, through the main commercial centres of Orange County to San Juan Capistrano, a seaside resort on the border with San Diego County to the south.

A source from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp , which operates the freight train, said dispatch tapes showed the train, which weighs more than 6,000 tons, was travelling at 10mph at the time of impact. The source, who did not want to be identified, said: "At that much weight and tonnage, 10 miles per hour is devastating."

Even over large distances, commuting by rail is not particularly popular in southern California, where the car is king and people endure hours of heavy traffic to work each day. The entire Metrolink network, serving the greater Los Angeles area, carries about 32,000 passengers a day.