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911 Calls Reveal Horror Of Train Collision

Investigators photograph the the mangled inside of a Metrolink commuter train in Chatsworth, Calif. on Sept. 14,2008.
AP PHOTO
Screams of anguish reverberated across the phone line - the only clue dispatchers needed to gauge the magnitude of the tragedy.

A train crash. Bloody victims. Desperate callers pleading for help.

"We have a whole bunch of people now bleeding and on the floor," one man told a dispatcher in a trembling voice after calling 911.

The man was among hundreds of callers who described a chaotic scene to dispatchers following the collision Friday between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight that killed 25 people and injured more than 130 others.

Fire officials released a few recordings of the calls Wednesday night following several media requests.

Some callers seemed calm, others frantic.

"Please hurry!" one person urged the dispatcher. "People are bleeding and hurt here."

Some survivors seemed confused as they called 911, one man telling the dispatcher he wasn't sure what the train hit. Together, amid the chaos and confusion, the injured passengers slowly discovered what happened.

"I can see about seven or eight people, in the one car I'm in, that are bleeding or on the floor," a passenger told the dispatcher.

As survivors emerged from the wreckage, they saw the first passenger car that crumpled under the force of the Metrolink engine.

"I bet you're going to have a lot of fatalities there," one caller said.

As the fire in the freight train intensified, passengers scrambled to move away.

"There's a possible explosion from the freight train," a man told the dispatcher. "There's a lot of people who are down. Just looking at that car, it looks real bad."

Another dispatcher warned a rescuer to stay away from the twisted metal and flammable fuel.

"If you see people jumping out or moving out of that vehicle, you can assist them to get them out of any danger," the dispatcher said.

Fire spokesman Ron Myers said the calls were a small sample of the hundreds that dispatchers received in the hours after the collision. He said the city received dozens of requests for the 911 tapes but only released a few because it would take hundreds of hours to assemble and distribute all of them.

Meanwhile, a memorial was held for LAPD officer Spree Desha, who was killed in the crash, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Officials: Engineer Texted On Day Of Wreck

Federal authorities investigating why a Metrolink train engineer ran through a red signal and into an oncoming freight train have confirmed that he was text messaging while working on the day of the fatal collision.

(KCAL)
The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to ban the use of electronic devices while operating trains, reports Tracy. Commission President Michael R. Peevey, who sought the order, said some railroads have such policies but they're widely ignored.

"Our order would make it the law and we'll go after violators," Peevey said earlier in the week.

Metrolink prohibits rail workers from using cell phones on the job, but there is no current federal or state regulation regarding the use of cell phones by railroad employees.

The National Transportation Safety Board requested the cell phone records of Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez after two teenage train fans said they had exchanged text messages with him shortly before the train collided head-on Friday with a Union Pacific freight train in suburban Chatsworth. The wreck killed 25 people, including Sanchez, and injured more than 130.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the NTSB did not say how many messages were found in the records or if any texting occurred just before the collision. However, the teens told CBS Station KCBS last week that they received a text message from the engineer at 4:22 p.m. - a minute before the collision.

Messages left with NTSB spokesman Terry Williams were not immediately returned. Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca declined to comment.

In 2003, the NTSB recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration regulate the use of cell phones after finding that a coal train engineer's phone use contributed to a May 2002 accident in which two freight trains collided head-on near Clarendon, Texas. The coal train engineer was killed and the conductor and engineer of the other train were critically injured.

Members of the FRA's railroad safety advisory committee have been considering restricting electronic device usage in the locomotive cab as it develops new safety rules, agency spokesman Steven Kulm said. He said the group discussed the matter in meetings earlier in the year, and plans to meet next week in Chicago.

"We've been working on this issue before this event happened," Kulm said.

The NTSB has determined Sanchez did not apply the brakes before the collision and ran a red light that could have prevented it. The agency said the tracks and signals were working properly and that human error was to blame.

Also Wednesday, Metrolink voted at an emergency meeting to create a Victims Assistance Fund for public and private donations to families of crash victims, and a $200,000 Temporary Assistance Fund to speed payment of costs for the families including funeral expenses, Oaxaca said.

The Southern California Regional Rail Authority called the closed session partly to discuss anticipated litigation as a result of the collision.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa removed board member Anthony Bejarano Wednesday and replaced him with Metropolitan Transit Authority Director Richard Katz, who is closer to the mayor. Villaraigosa also replaced one of the board's alternates.

The board also approved a unanimous motion to support legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein requiring the installation of technology to prevent train crashes.

The California Democrat hoped to get Congress to pass the requirement for so-called positive train control before recessing at the end of next week.

Metrolink Chief Executive David Solow told the Los Angeles Daily News the technology may be difficult to apply in Southern California.

"Positive train control as a concept is here," Solow told the newspaper after the Wednesday session. "But when you get to the details ... this location is very complex."

"Cost is not an issue if I don't have anything to buy," he said. "We are waiting for technology that works."

In July 2007, Solow warned Congress that requiring the safety devices would involve "substantial cost," according to the Los Angeles Times. He asked a Senate subcommittee to give railroads "flexibility" in implementing the new systems and said his agency remained "very concerned about the interoperability" for rail systems such as those in Los Angeles, where freight and commuter lines share tracks.