Commuters Take to Los Angeles Rails for Somber Trip

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Commuters reunited Monday for the first workday since a deadly train crash, embracing fellow riders — many known only by sight — and mourning those who died in the accident.

Bouquets and cards were left along the length of the Simi Valley loading platform, many left by passengers who said they felt a sense of kinship with the people who shared their daily ride to Los Angeles. The commuter train smashed into a freight engine Friday just before the Simi Valley station, killing 25 people.

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A large card next to a makeshift shrine of balloons and flowers read "To Paul Long, location, Heaven." The messages identified him as a pastor, teacher and mentor. The 54-year-old Moorpark man was killed in the crash.

A survivor left a note that read: "To my friends, bike riders .... I pray that all you guys are OK. Your friend, Jerry." He left his phone number and asked fellow bike riders to call him. He hadn't taken the train on Friday, the day of the crash, because he was picking up a new bike.

An unsigned note said, "This was my train, these were my people. I wasn't on Metrolink 111 on Friday, Sept. 12, due to unforeseen circumstances. While I'm grateful to be alive I feel as if I somehow missed an event involving my family. I wasn't there to help. ... And I didn't get to say goodbye."

Steve Zeleny, 51, of Simi Valley said he was shocked to see the cars of regular Metrolink riders who never made it home still in the parking lot. One of the cars belonged to a man named Mark, who Zeleny usually sat with on his commute.

"I put my hands on his car and said a prayer for him," said Zeleny, who normally would have been on the train but stayed late at work Friday. He would keep riding, he said, but would no longer sit in the front car, where most of the damage occurred.

Several commuters said they were surprised at how light passenger traffic was Monday morning.

The train crashed just after Chatsworth station, where longtime riders Robin Leftwich and Genise Silvers hugged when they saw one another on the platform Monday.

"I'm just so glad to see you," Leftwich said.

Both were on the train that crashed Friday but had gotten off at the stop before the deadly crash. The two have ridden together for years, but like most riders knew each other only by sight.

"I don't even have her phone number," Silvers said.

Both worried about the fate of a nice young man with body piercings who had struck up a conversation with them and was planning to get off the train at the Simi Valley station. They don't know his name.

"He was just so cute," Silvers said. "He was in a hurry to get home and I told him, 'Don't worry, you'll be there in just a few minutes. You're getting off at the next stop.' And then I said goodbye and that was it."

Leftwich said she hadn't seen his picture among photos of victims so she hoped he was all right.

Many passengers signed an oversized card for popular conductor Bob Hildebrand, who was injured in Friday's crash. Commuter Mike Armenta said Hildebrand had welcomed him to the train the day he began riding it two years ago and had showed him how to stow his bicycle.

"Everybody knows Bob the conductor," Zeleny had said. "He's like family."