The Glendale train crash unfolded on January 26, 2005, at 6:03 a.m. PST. It involved a Metrolink commuter train and a sport utility vehicle that had been intentionally parked on the tracks by a man attempting to take his own life.
The collision occurred in an industrial area north of downtown Los Angeles, California. Tragically, the collision resulted in the loss of eleven lives and left 177 individuals injured.
Prelude to the Glendale Train Crash
During the busy morning rush hour, the northbound train #901, which departs from Los Angeles, typically transports a range of thirty to fifty passengers. On the other hand, the southbound train #100, heading towards Los Angeles, usually carries between 200 and 250 passengers.
In relation to the accident, a freight train was stationary on a parallel auxiliary track called “The Slide,” situated on the west side of the main tracks. A Union Pacific locomotive led the freight train numbered 4323, a model EMD SD70M.
It was parked there, awaiting its turn to transport track ballast for the purpose of repairing tracks on the former Southern Pacific Railroad’s Coast Line. These tracks had previously been damaged due to severe rainstorms that occurred in January 2005.
The Glendale Train Crash: What Really Happened
On January 26, 2005, at 6:00 a.m., Metrolink #100, with the cab car leading and the locomotive pushing, was traveling southbound on the right-hand track toward Glendale station. At 6:02 a.m., it crossed Chevy Chase Drive at a speed of 63 mph. Around the same time, Metrolink #901 was departing Glendale station, heading northbound.
At precisely 6:03 a.m., tragedy struck as Metrolink #100 collided with a Jeep Cherokee that had been parked perpendicularly on the tracks. Despite the car being significantly lighter and smaller than the train, it disintegrated upon impact, barely affecting the train’s momentum.
Debris from the Jeep became lodged beneath the leading wheels of the first train car. Despite the application of full brakes, the train continued at a high speed.
Approximately 275 meters (900 feet) south of Chevy Chase Drive, a set of points connected to a siding where a freight train carrying gravel for nearby track repairs was parked.
The debris pushed the leading wheels of Metrolink #100 into the siding while the rear wheels remained on the straight track. Within seconds of the initial collision, the cab car collided with the freight train’s locomotive at an estimated speed of 47 mph (76 kph).
The impact caused severe damage, with the cab car’s frame buckling and its body compressed by 8 meters (26 feet). The passenger train’s locomotive was lifted and separated from the following locomotive, rotating approximately 30 degrees before falling over into an adjacent parking lot.
Meanwhile, the cab car continued rotating and derailed the following car before separating at the coupler. This breach caused the cab car to exceed the minimum clearance outline of the northbound track just as Metrolink #901 approached the scene on its northbound journey.
As a result, the two cars of the southbound train jackknifed, and the cab car almost reversed along the oncoming track alongside the second car, which was moving forward.
Following the initial collision, the rear of the cab car and the leading left corner of the following passenger car narrowly missed the locomotive and leading car of the northbound train, which was traveling at a speed of 50 mph (80 kph). However, they made contact with the sides of the rear two cars of the northbound train.
The first point of contact occurred 3 meters (10 feet) behind the forward doors of the second car. The impact punctured the wall of the car, pushing it inward all the way to the aisle. Several rows of seats were destroyed as the shape of the car’s framing was altered. This alteration eventually pushed the southbound train car out of the northbound one.
Due to the collision, the car leaned to its right and became misaligned with the trailing cab car. This misalignment effectively created a broad wall for the southbound train to collide with the cab car of the northbound train.
The impact on the cab car caused severe damage and ripped it off the northbound train. The cab car then fell over and slid to a stop on its right-hand side next to the tracks.
Meanwhile, the rest of the severely damaged northbound train continued to travel for a short distance before coming to a stop further up the tracks. This was due to the torn coupler activating the brakes.
Tragically, the accident resulted in the loss of 11 lives, with 177 individuals sustaining injuries.
Why Was the Jeep Involved in the Glendale Train Crash?
The first individuals arriving at the scene were a nearby Costco supermarket employees next to the rail line. Upon witnessing the accident, they immediately took action. Scaling a fence, they provided initial aid to survivors and alerted professional responders when they arrived shortly thereafter.
The employees displayed remarkable courage by venturing into the mangled train cars to rescue survivors. Additionally, some of them grabbed fire extinguishers to combat smaller fires that had erupted amidst the sprawling wreckage caused by fuel spraying onto hot metal.
A massive response was initiated within a few minutes of the witnesses placing the first emergency calls. Over 300 responders, including several helicopters and search dogs, were involved in the extensive rescue and recovery efforts.
Interestingly, one individual caught the attention of the responders near the level crossing. This person, later identified as Mr. Álvarez, had fled the scene before the responders could reach him. He was eventually found at a friend’s house.
Mr. Álvarez was the owner of the Jeep that initiated the disastrous sequence of events. Prior to the accident, he had been in a suicidal state, inflicting injuries on himself by cutting his wrists and stabbing himself multiple times. He drove his car onto the tracks at the level crossing and proceeded southward along the rails.
Eventually, he positioned the Jeep at a 90° angle to the track, effectively blocking it. However, he changed his heart upon witnessing the train approaching, abandoning the vehicle and narrowly escaping the oncoming train.
Some initial witnesses claimed to have seen Mr. Álvarez inflicting further wounds on himself after the train crash. However, subsequent investigations disproved these rumors.
The Aftermath of the Glendale Train Crash
Following the accident, concerns were raised regarding the safety of operating trains in a pushing configuration, where the locomotive is positioned at the rear of the train, pushing the cars ahead. This arrangement was criticized for lacking the structural rigidity provided by a locomotive, which could be crucial in the event of an accident.
In North America, the type of locomotive commonly used for trains like the ones involved in the accident is constructed to be highly rigid. These locomotives typically feature nearly full steel construction, including a hood and a section of the frame positioned ahead of the locomotive’s cab.
In contrast, with the end of steam traction in Europe, the driver’s cab is often located at the very front of the locomotive. As a result, cab cars in North America exhibit even greater structural differences compared to their locomotives than their European counterparts.
Given the significant damage inflicted upon the southbound cab car during the Glendale crash, it is understandable that criticism arose regarding the practice of leading a train with a car instead of a locomotive.
Many viewed this operational approach as negligent, as the severity of the damage highlighted the potential risks and reinforced the argument for having a locomotive at the front of the train for enhanced protection.
While the primary cause of the accident was undoubtedly Mr. Álvarez’s attempted suicide, the subsequent investigation shed light on the problematic structural engineering of the train cars involved.
Careful consideration had to be given to the wording of the investigation report, as it aimed to highlight the issues with the specific type of train car without explicitly confirming the general criticism that any train configuration other than locomotive-pulled trains is inherently unsafe.
The forces exerted on the southbound train when it derailed and collided with the parked freight train were unimaginable. The collision essentially represented a real-life scenario of an “unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.”
This extreme case revealed inherent problems with the engineering of the train cars, which could also be extrapolated to smaller-scale accidents. Consequently, it was determined that new cab cars should be designed to include proper driver’s cabs with crash engineering similar to that of locomotives rather than simply retrofitting them with a control desk, as had been the case previously.
Following the incident, Mr. Álvarez was apprehended and faced serious legal consequences. He was charged with eleven counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and one count of arson (as it was discovered that he had spilled gasoline on his car).
Prosecutors also pursued the rarely invoked charge of “train wrecking,” a law originally established in the 1870s to prosecute train robbers in the wild west.
During the trial, Mr. Álvarez’s defense argued that the crash was not a deliberate act of homicide but an unfortunate accident. They maintained that his intention was solely to end his own life and not to cause harm to anyone else.
Prosecutors countered this defense by asserting that Mr. Álvarez had deliberately orchestrated the train crash in order to gain attention from his estranged wife, who had previously obtained a restraining order against him due to his erratic, threatening, and controlling behavior.
It was revealed that this was not Mr. Álvarez’s first suicide attempt, as he had received treatment for the consequences of previous failed attempts and had a history of methamphetamine abuse.
On June 26, 2008, Mr. Álvarez was acquitted of the train-wrecking charge. However, two weeks later, he received a severe sentence of 11 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. He is currently incarcerated at a Level 4 maximum security prison in Delano, California.
Later Incidents and what we can learn from the Glendale Train Crash
In 2009, a negligence lawsuit was filed against Metrolink by a group of survivors and victims’ relatives, alleging that inadequate training had led to delayed activation of the emergency brakes.
By December of that year, Metrolink had publicly stated that they had paid out $39 million in settlements and were in the process of investing over $500 million in new and safer rolling stock, improved training programs, installation of dashcams on trains, and upgrades to their infrastructure.
While most of the train cars involved in the accident were scrapped, all the locomotives, including the freight train’s locomotive that had sustained significant damage to its nose section after falling over, were repaired and put back into service.
In the years following the accident, Metrolink gradually retired or sold off most of their F59 locomotives. The locomotive, numbered #873, which had been pushing the southbound train, underwent engine upgrades to reduce emissions and was repurposed for shunting work as the F59PHR.
Its northbound counterpart was eventually placed in indefinite storage a few years after the accident. In 2015, Metrolink introduced the new EMD F125 “Spirit” locomotives, intended to replace the remaining F59 locomotives in commercial service.
Additionally, starting in 2010, Metrolink began receiving 56 Hyundai Rotem bilevel cab cars, featuring significantly improved structural engineering. These new cab cars were designed with crash energy management as a critical aspect of their engineering, reflected in their full name, “Hyundai Rotem Bi Level crash energy management cars.”
While the new cab cars are compatible with the older Bombardier cars, Metrolink plans to replace the Bombardier cars with long-term matching bilevel cars gradually. Over 30 first and second-generation Bombardier cab cars have already been retired by Metrolink, with some briefly returning to service after the removal of the control desks.
The new cab cars have a distinct driver’s cab on the upper level, protruding from the end of the passenger area, and exhibit a more aerodynamic and locomotive-like appearance.
While it is acknowledged that derailments resulting from collisions with cars stranded on train tracks cannot be completely eliminated in the future, the lessons learned from the Glendale accident have undoubtedly contributed to improved railway safety for smaller-scale accidents.
Álvarez was officially given eleven consecutive life sentences without the possibility of release on August 20. He is still serving his sentence.
Next, read about the Story of Emmett Till, the African American Teenager who was Lynched in 1955. Then, about the Disturbing Theory of Dead Cosmonauts Floating Around in Space.
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