LOS ANGELES — A freight train collided with a rush-hour commuter train in suburban Los Angeles on Friday evening, killing at least 15 people and injuring scores of others, many of them critically, in what may be the deadliest accident in the history of the Southern California commuter trains.
The accident happened in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley, north of downtown Los Angeles, just before 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. Almost immediately after the collision, firefighters, using cranes and ladders, swarmed a toppled and grossly twisted car, reaching through smashed windows and trying to extract passengers. Firefighters said they expected the death toll to rise as they attempted to search through the toppled car.
A spokeswoman for Metrolink said that about 350 people might have been on the afternoon train commuter train, which apparently ran into the freight train traveling along the same track in the opposite direction, although it was not immediately clear why or precisely how the crash occurred. The force of the collision was so strong, an engine from the freight train lodged in a Metrolink passenger car.
Denise Tyrell , a spokeswoman for Metrolink, said, "We honestly don't know what happened. Obviously two trains are not supposed to be at the same place at the same time." Metrolink trains have begun to carry more passengers than usual in recent months as gas prices have climbed.
As light began to fade, rescue workers aided by cadaver dogs methodically searched for passengers — dead and alive — and the residential neighborhood nearby filled with frantic family members of passengers trying desperately to get information.
"I am so scared, I have no information," said Belen Villalobos, whose 18-year-old daughter Maria boarded the train in downtown Los Angeles less an hour before the crash. "We don't know where they're taking people or where they are."
Willie Castro, 64, called his family shortly after the crash to tell them he had crawled out of the darkened car, and believed both of his legs to be broken. He told his family he was waiting to be taken to a hospital.
The deadliest crash in the history of the Metrolink in Southern California was in 2005, when 11 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured when two trains collided with a Union Pacific freight train.
The crash occurred when one train hit a Jeep Cherokee abandoned on the tracks by Juan M. Alvarez, who said he had planned to commit suicide but changed his mind and tried to move the Jeep before the train struck it. Prosecutors charged him with 11 counts of murder, and Alvarez was convicted in June.