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Metrolink / Freight Train Collision
in Fullerton, Thursday, Nov. 18, 1999, about 8:15 AM

A Metrolink train collided with an intermodal freight train about 8:15 AM about 1 mile north of the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot. The collision took place by the Fullerton Municipal Airport near the intersection of Brookhurst and Commonwealth.

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Slideshow Of Highlights From The Photo Sets Below
Set #1 / Set #2 / Set #3 / Set #4
Set #5 / Set #6 / Set #7 / Set #8
TrainWeb Office & Orange County Register Reporters
Photos from the next day, Friday, Nov. 19, 1999

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Did You Find This Web Site From Page 18 in the Friday, Nov. 19, 1999 Orange Count Register?

As we have often found in prior news coverage of TrainWeb, reporters do not always get the story totally correct. The O.C. Register story was correct in reporting that Ray Burns of TrainWeb was one of the first people on the scene and was able to get close enough to the incident to take detailed photographs. Unlike other photographers and reporters, Ray was on the scene before the police tape was up. Thus, Ray did not duck under the police tape as was stated in the story in the O.C. Register. The reporters from the Register may have assumed that he did since the tape was up by the time they arrived and he was already on the other side of the tape. Having arrived early, Ray did speak with the investigators from UPS and did tag along with them as they inspected the damage to their shipment. If it wasn't for the fact that the TrainWeb office is located just down the street from the incident, Ray would not have arrived so early and would have had the same amount of difficulty getting close to the accident as other photographers and reporters. TrainWeb does wish to make it clear that we had every authorization to be on the scene to cover this rail related news item for our thousands of readers and did not cross police lines to do so.

Click here for the latest TrainWeb update if you have already read previously posted coverage.

Posted: 18-Nov-1999 8:55 AM

I first heard about the accident at 8:20 AM on KFI 640 while driving to work at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot when I was on Commonwealth Avenue, about 1000 feet before arriving at the station. I could see the smoke rising from the accident and heard the emergency vehicles on the way. Ray Burns is usually already at the office at this time. Ray travels right down that part of Commonwealth and is probably delayed in the heavy traffic that has been reported in that area due to this accident.

At 8:12 AM an announcement was made for the first boarding call of northbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #769. This is a train that goes from San Diego to Goleta (Santa Barbara). This is also the train that carries all the passengers coming from the south that connect with the Amtrak Coast Starlight which departs from Los Angeles every morning at 9:30 A.M. We are still reviewing the videotape soundtrack, but we assume other arrangements were made for those passengers connecting with the Coast Starlight, such as a bus or shuttle van.

The derailment was announced at 8:29 AM by the Amtrak staff at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot. Waiting passengers were told that there will be no trains until further notice and to stand-by for further updates.

The collision was between a northbound intermodal freight train that was trying to make it onto a siding to let the southbound Metrolink train pass. It was reported that the Metrolink train came around the corner before all of the freight train could get from the left track to the right track. The Metrolink train hit the last third of the intermodal train. Several tractor trailers were knocked off the train, burst open, and are in flames.

All the Metrolink cars are still standing, but the locomotive has derailed. The Metrolink train is not on fire. So far, there are 12 to 18 injuries reported. Fortunately, this was the southbound Metrolink train heading against the rush hour traffic. This train is really just a repositioning move. Some of the Metrolink trains taking commuters into Los Angeles head back out to the suburbs to make a second run to take more passengers into Los Angeles. Rather than run empty, Metrolink stops at the stations on the reverse run and has developed some regular business carrying a few passengers on these reverse runs.

TrainWeb has the video of all traffic through the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot from this morning, including communication between the Dispatcher and both trains. We will be reviewing this tape after it reaches the end at about 11:30 AM today. Video of the northbound freight train involved in the accident prior to the collision will be on this tape.

Click here to see still photos of most of the trains that went through Fullerton this morning. You will see photos of a northbound Metrolink at 8:08 AM, the departure of the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief at 7:39 AM, the arrival of the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief at 7:28 AM, the arrival of another Metrolink at 7:19 AM, and a westbound BNSF train at 7:18 AM. You will sometimes see the cab car of a Metrolink train instead of the locomotive since these trains operate in push-pull mode. The locomotive is almost always on the south end of the Metrolink trains on the routes south of Los Angeles. This probably minimized the damage to the Metrolink train and injuries to the passengers in this collision since the locomotive would absorb the impact of the collision rather than the Cab Control passenger car. Although our camera starts capturing still photos of trains early in the morning, we don't start to upload images until about 7:15 AM. Thus, the BNSF freight train and all the stills taken earlier than that are all labeled as 7:18 AM, when they were saved to our server. It is possible

Ray Burns did arrive at 8:45 AM after having been delayed in the traffic caused by this accident, just as I suspected. Ray headed back to obtain photos of this incident.

At 9:15 AM there are still additional emergency vehicles being sent to the accident. About every 5 minutes, sirens from emergency vehicles can be heard heading to the accident, or some of them could be ambulances heading to hospitals from the accident. The last of the fire is being put out at this time. The Metrolink did not burn, but the locomotive has been singed by the fire.

1999-Nov-18 09:30 AM:

People at the scene said that the Metrolink tried to stop 2 or 3 times before the collision. The imact of the collision blew out many of the windows in the commuter train. Ironically, last week, Fullerton practiced a "Mass Casualty Drill". They will be putting some of those practiced skills to work today.

Latest reports are that there are 15 injured. There are 7 ambulances heading from the scene with injured right now and another 7 or 8 ambulances loading up with more passengers. Passengers are on stretchers on the ground being treated. The Metrolink engineer is at a nearby picnic bench with a few bruises and pretty shaken up. He is not yet ready to talk with reporters about the collision.

The Dispatcher is trying to coordinate with various BNSF freight trains out on the lines blocked by this incident. She is trying to get each train into nearby yards or sidings to clear traffic off the mainline. At some time, the Metrolink and BNSF intermodal involved in this collision will need to be moved off the tracks. Thus, all traffic between these trains and the yards where they will be taken needs to be cleared from the tracks.

A father arrived with his child at the station about 9:30 AM to watch trains, but ended up in our office when he realized there would not be any trains to watch for quite a while! They stayed for just a short while looking at the Fullerton Railway Plaza Association (FRPA) model for the museum to be built by the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot.

A number of people from FRPA came in the office about 9 AM. They were planning on taking the train up to Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) for the unvailing of the new Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Service. This was just to be an announcement of the new service with photos and paintings of the new trainsets along with display of the new service mark. The governor of Califoria is planned to be there along with most of Amtrak's Board of Directors and officials from many of the cities up and down the Amtrak San Diegan Line (to be renamed the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner line when the new equipment is introduced in the Spring of 2000). No equipment is expected to be on display. Ray and I plan to be at this event. But, like the FRPA people, it looks like we will be driving to Los Angeles instead of taking Amtrak! Train service through Fullerton will probably not resume through Fullerton until late this afternoon, at best!

1999-Nov-18 11:45 AM:

According to Sgt. Joe Cline of the Fullerton Police Department, there were 65 passeners on the train and 8 people were injured. The most serious of the injuries was a broken leg.

Playing back our video shows BNSF DASH-9 Freight Train #4508 heading west through Fullerton at 7:52 A.M. on the central track. This is the track that BNSF calls Track #2, but for which the Fullerton Station has no name for, or maybe is called Track #3. The Fullerton Station calls Track #2 what BNSF calls Track #3. In the video, we saw several of the UPS tractor-trailor truck bodies that we later photographed at the wreck site. The soundtrack of the videotape also indicates that the first report to the Dispatcher about the derailment was at 8:15 AM. Thus, the derailment must have occured just prior to that time, probably at 8:13 or 8:14 AM. There was additional conversation between the Dispatcher and the Metrolink train after the accident, but we could only hear the Dispatcher side of the conversation.

The report relayed to the Dispatcher at 8:15 AM was that there is fire on the Metrolink, that the Metrolink had derailed and that a freight train collided with it. The report about fire on the Metrolink itself was not correct and we are still waiting for more details to get the correct story about which train hit which train.

The current story is that both the BNSF train and the Metrolink train were traveling on the same track. That would have to be the middle track. The BNSF train was heading west and the Metrolink train (Train #602 to Oceanside) was traveling east.

Prior to arriving into Fullerton, the Metrolink train would have to switch to the track at the south passenger platform (the one BNSF calls Track #3 and the Fullerton Depot calls Track #2). We've heard that the BNSF train was switching off the middle track onto another track. This train was 6,300 feet long. The front end of the train may have made it all the way off of the middle track, but evidently the train separated while making this maneuver, leaving some cars still on the middle track as the Metrolink train came around the corner!

Contrary to earlier reports about many windows beling blown out on the Metrolink train, other passengers just said that some windows were shattered. Ray Burns did not see any windows that had been blown out of the train.

At about 10 A.M., the TrainWeb office was just about overrun with staff from the Orange County Register and railfans from downstairs! We provided as much material as we could to them about the accident. Although they were glad to find the wealth of information and photos that we had already gathered about the incident, there were some problems in the compatibility of media. Generally we do not take the type of high-resolution or 35mm photos often used in print media since we target an online audience where file size and download speed are a concern. Also, our radio coverage of transmissions from the trains only extends about 1/4 mile down the tracks. We can hear the dispatcher fine because that transmitter is pretty powerful. The transmitters onboard the train are not as powerful. Though we could extend our range with a roof antenna, we never felt the need since our only purpose of capturing the radio transmission was just to accompany the video of the trains through the depot.

Most of the damaged intermodal cars were carrying United Parcel Service (UPS) trailors. Staff from UPS was on the scene less that 30 minutes after the accident making an assesment of the damage.

At about 11:30 AM, Ray headed off without me to cover the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner announcements in Los Angeles Union Station. There are only one or two major stories that TrainWeb feels obligated to cover each month. Unfortunately, like today, they will sometimes fall on the same day and we need to be in two places at once! I opted to stay at the office to continue coverage of this story while Ray went to get photographs and some details from Amtrak's announcements.

At 12:40 AM, the Amtrak staff announced that there is no Amtrak service at this time due to the freight derailment. It does not seem that Amtrak is running any buses to substitute for the missing train service.

1999-Nov-18 02:15 PM:

The first train came through since this morning at 2:15 PM. It was just two BNSF locomotives down the middle track. They will probably use these locomotives to pull away the remaining segment of the intermodal train that is still upright on the track.

1999-Nov-18 02:45 PM:

The first Amtrak announcement was made regarding bus service being substituted for southbound rail service. The first bus left Fullerton heading south at 2:50 PM.

A radio announcement just indicated that all Metrolink passengers returning home today will be sent on the San Bernardino line from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, and then will be sent south west on the Metrolink Inland Empire Line to Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, and Oceanside. This will add more than one hour to their commute. Passengers going from Los Angeles to stations between Los Angeles and Orange will be taken by bus.

The following was posted with permission from Gene Poon:

The accident seems to sort out as follows:

Westbound BNSF intermodal freight at BASTA, going from triple track to double track, crossing from center track to North track (the one on engineer's right). Metrolink train #600, a counter-current positioning run which accepts passengers, coming east (compass southbound from LAX) struck the BNSF about 3/4 of the way back. Metrolink engine 865 derailed, upright; passenger cars derailed, upright. Estimated 15-19 injuries, minor. Several BNSF flats derailed and overturned, trailers fell off and several caught on fire.

BASTA is 50mph, both on straight track and thru the crossovers. Metrolink had just come off 75mph track about 0.8 miles previous.

1999-Nov-18 03:45 PM:

Amtrak has just made an announcement that all northbound passengers should come to the ticket window. Usually this is done to find out how many passengers are waiting for the northbound train. If it is not too many, they will often just transport them by taxi or van to Los Angeles. Otherwise, they have to arrange for a bus.

1999-Nov-18 04:05 PM:

The first eastbound freight train just went by. This might have been part of the train that was involved in the derailment.

1999-Nov-19 08:50 AM:

As of this morning, rail service has resumed for Metrolink, Amtrak and BNSF.

More details will be posted to this page as they become available.

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