A bell that had been aboard a Metrolink train involved in a deadly 2008 crash in Chatsworth was rung 25 times Wednesday as part of a solemn ceremony at Union Station to honor the number of victims killed and mark the 10th anniversary of the accident.
The crash killed 25 people, injured more than 100 others and led to a national push for the installation of railway safety systems.
City and county leaders, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, were among the speakers who recalled when westbound Metrolink train 111 collided head-on with an eastbound Union Pacific freight train just west of the Chatsworth station. The force of the collision pushed the locomotive leading the Metrolink train into the passenger car immediately behind it. A dozen rail cars from the two trains derailed, leaving a scene of devastation.
“I’ve often said that being mayor of a city that my grandpa came to 100 years ago was the biggest honor of my life,” said Villaraigosa, who was mayor at the time of the crash and spent more than 24 hours at the scene. “But Sept. 12 was a day that for me is seared in my memory.”
Twenty-three people were pronounced dead at the scene, and two more died days later. A total of 135 people were injured. The collision remains the deadliest crash in Metrolink history, and one of the deadliest rail disasters in U.S. history. The Union Station ceremony included about a dozens family members of crash victims and at least three people who were injured.
In the probe that ensued, investigators determined that the engineer aboard the Metrolink train, 46-year-old Robert Sanchez, had been actively texting a friend, despite a ban on the use of cell phones while operating the locomotive. Investigators determined that the distracted Sanchez missed illuminated warning signals about the approaching freight train when he pulled the Metrolink commuter train out of Chatsworth station.
Sanchez was among those killed in the resulting crash.
As a result of the crash, federal legislation was passed mandating the installation of Positive Train Control safety systems on commuter rail lines by the end of 2015. The deadline was later extended, but Metrolink moved ahead quickly and now operates the system on more than 300 miles of track.
Positive Train Control is a computerized system that tracks the location of locomotives and alerts railroad officials of potential collisions. The system can even take over the operation of a train if an engineer fails to take corrective actions.
“This agency has worked tirelessly night and day to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again,” said Barger, who was chief of staff of former Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich at the time of the crash and is a current member of the Metrolink Board of Directors. “As difficult as it might be, I am proud of Metrolink for ensuring we pause to remember this day and not let it go by without reflection. It’s important for us to remember. I know this tragedy weights heavily on this board and on the staff.”
Two daughters of one of the crash victims, Doyle Souser, attended the ceremony and rang the bell that was aboard Metrolink train 111 on the day of the tragedy. Souser’s wife, Claudia, also spoke at the ceremony.
“We’re thankful for those who have worked so hard on train safety so that no one will ever have to go through this again, but we’re also thankful to all of our friends and our family who have stood with us through these 10 years so we could heal and begin to learn this new normal that we did never want,” Souser said.
At the event, Metrolink also unveiled a Rail Safety Exhibit that details the Chatsworth crash, recognizes the victims and first responders and explains the safety systems that have been installed in the years since. The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 26.
At 3:30 p.m., Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander will host a community memorial ceremony near the crash site, at Ride On Therapeutic Horsemanship, 10860 Topanga Canyon Blvd. The ceremony will include a bell- ringing at 4:22 p.m., the time of the crash.
Englander has asked local churches and schools to also ring their bells at 4:22 p.m. as part of the remembrance.