Railroad Workers Under Fire for Train Derailment

Railroad workers came under fire Saturday for diverting two dozen runaway freight cars without warning, causing the cars to derail and destroy trackside homes.

"It may have been right for them, but not for me," said resident Luis Vasquez, 59. "I don't know if they didn't have time to warn us — that's what I want to think, because the other way, I can't take it."

Twenty-eight freight cars derailed Friday in a blue-collar area east of Los Angeles, unleashing a blizzard of lumber. Thirteen people, including three children, were treated for minor injuries.

The two homes where Vasquez lived with his wife, two daughters and son were wiped out, but the family escaped injury.

Union Pacific Railroad (search) spokesman Mark Davis said diverting the cars to a side track was a split-second decision. Had the cars continued westward, they could have hit passenger trains or freight cars laden with hazardous materials.

Davis said the railroad warned emergency authorities about 20 minutes before the cars derailed, but could not say what agency or agencies were called.

Commerce city officials said they were not alerted. Mayor Jesus M. Cervantes (search) called for a complete investigation.

"We'll work with the residents so they can get assistance," Cervantes said. "And then we're going to be talking to Union Pacific and start making arrangements with them to take responsibility for the consequences of this act."

The National Transportation Safety Board (search), assisted by the Federal Railroad Administration (search), was investigating.

The tracks were expected to be cleared by Sunday. The full cleanup could take at least a week.

Search-and-rescue workers continued to comb through the debris in a hunt for victims on Saturday. The work was precautionary, since no one was reported missing, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Chris Casillas.

The freight cars came loose in a switching yard in Montclair and rolled along a downhill grade toward Los Angeles. It was not immediately clear how the cars rolled away.

Railroad workers diverted the cars onto a side track at noon after they had raced nearly 30 miles at speeds sometimes topping 70 mph. The cars derailed because of their speed when they veered onto the siding, said railroad spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell.

About 20 homes were evacuated. The railroad said it arranged hotel accommodations for the families and was assessing the cost of repairing the homes.