PLACENTIA, Calif. – Two people were killed and 260 were injured Tuesday morning when a mile-long freight train collided head-on with a commuter train filled with rush-hour passengers.
The northbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train struck the southbound Metrolink train at 8:10 a.m. (PDT), buckling and derailing two cars packed with passengers, authorities and witnesses said.
"Our train stopped and the next thing you know — boom! — it hit," passenger Gene Ogelsby said.
Jackie Bisesi saw the crash while she was pumping gas at a nearby station about 35 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
"I heard the horn. I saw the train coming toward it. I said, 'Oh my God! It's on the same track! It's going to hit; it's going to hit!' We all started running forward," she said.
There appeared to be little damage at the point of impact, indicating the trains were traveling at slow speed.
Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said she didn't know the speed of the trains at impact or how the two trains wound up on the same track.
"This is obviously a very serious incident and there is an investigation," Gavin said.
One person died at the scene and the other died later, Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. The victims were not immediately identified.
Up to 300 people were aboard the commuter train, Gavin said. Twenty-five of the 265 injured were immediately taken to hospitals with what officials called "life-threatening" injuries. Forty-five others were to be transported later, she said.
"The train stopped for a couple seconds. The freight train just hit us," Metrolink passenger Scott Wilson said. "For me, I was facing backward. Maybe that's how I ended up being OK."
Another passenger, Kim Bailey, also recalled the train coming to a halt just before the crash. "I was thrown forward onto 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.
Firefighters, some using ladders, helped passengers out of the derailed two-decker Metrolink train and treated the most seriously injured in a triage area.
Many of the victims had internal injuries and broken bones.
All area hospitals were put on alert. Kaiser Permanente Orange County Medical Center in Anaheim got 10 patients. Two were in guarded condition and the rest had minor injuries, spokeswoman Nora Norman said. St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton said it had two critically injured patients.
The Metrolink 809 was headed from Riverside to San Juan Capistrano on a route that serves 3,000 passengers daily. It left the west Corona station and was scheduled to stop at the Anaheim Canyon station.
The freight was en route from Los Angeles to Clovis, N.M., said Richard Russack, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. It carried 67 loaded containers.
Several streets in the area were closed because of the wreckage and the length of the freight train.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe said it owns and maintains the stretch of rail where the collision happened. BNSF runs 55 freight trains a day along the line, which connects Los Angeles and Chicago.
Metrolink carries more than 32,000 passengers a day across the region, and runs 128 trains per day. Its trains travel at 44 mph on average, weigh 450 tons and take one-third of a mile to stop, according to the commuter rail system.
It was the second serious rail crash in the United States in less than a week. On Thursday, the Amtrak Auto Train derailed in northern Florida, killing four people. Officials are still investigating the cause of the crash and the engineer's claim that he braked after seeing misaligned tracks ahead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.