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Victims of Chatsworth crash honored this week in ceremony

City News Service | 9/14/2018, midnight
A bell that had been aboard a Metrolink train involved in a deadly 2008 crash in Chatsworth..
Chatworth crash

A bell that had been aboard a Metrolink train involved in a deadly 2008 crash in Chatsworth was rung 25 times on 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.''