Metrolink / Freight Train Collision
in Fullerton, Thursday, Nov. 18, 1999, about 8:15 AM
A Metrolink train collided with an intermodal freight train about 8:15 AM about 1 mile north
of the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot. The collision took place by the Fullerton Municipal Airport
near the intersection of Brookhurst and Commonwealth.
Special Note: The following photos were taken by Ray Burns of TrainWeb. You may post these
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Slideshow Of Highlights From The Photo Sets Below
Set #1 /
Set #2 /
Set #3 /
Set #5 /
Set #6 /
Set #7 /
TrainWeb Office & Orange County Register Reporters
Photos from the next day, Friday, Nov. 19, 1999
Did You Find This Web Site From Page 18 in the
Friday, Nov. 19, 1999 Orange Count Register?
As we have often found in prior news coverage of TrainWeb, reporters do not always get the
story totally correct. The O.C. Register story was correct in reporting that Ray Burns
of TrainWeb was one of the first people on the scene and was able to get close enough to
the incident to take detailed photographs. Unlike other photographers and reporters, Ray was
on the scene before the police tape was up. Thus, Ray did not duck under the police tape as
was stated in the story in the O.C. Register. The reporters from the Register
may have assumed that he did since the tape was up by the time they arrived and he was already
on the other side of the tape. Having arrived early, Ray did speak with the investigators from
UPS and did tag along with them as they inspected the damage to their shipment. If it wasn't
for the fact that the TrainWeb office is located just down the street from the incident, Ray
would not have arrived so early and would have had the same amount of difficulty getting close
to the accident as other photographers and reporters. TrainWeb does wish to make it clear that
we had every authorization to be on the scene to cover this rail related news item for our
thousands of readers and did not cross police lines to do so.
TrainWeb's comments on the safety of rail travel
Posted: 18-Nov-1999 8:55 AM
I first heard about the accident at 8:20 AM on KFI 640 while driving to work at the Fullerton
Santa Fe Depot when I was on Commonwealth Avenue, about 1000 feet before arriving at the
station. I could see the smoke rising from the accident and heard the emergency vehicles on
the way. Ray Burns is usually already at the office at this time. Ray travels right down
that part of Commonwealth and is probably delayed in the heavy traffic that has been reported
in that area due to this accident.
At 8:12 AM an announcement was made for the first boarding call of northbound Amtrak San Diegan
Train #769. This is a train that goes from San Diego to Goleta (Santa Barbara). This is also
the train that carries all the passengers coming from the south that connect with the Amtrak
Coast Starlight which departs from Los Angeles every morning at 9:30 A.M. We are still
reviewing the videotape soundtrack, but we assume other arrangements were made for those
passengers connecting with the Coast Starlight, such as a bus or shuttle van.
The derailment was announced at 8:29 AM by the Amtrak staff at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot.
Waiting passengers were told that there will be no trains until further notice and to stand-by
for further updates.
The collision was between a northbound intermodal freight train that was trying to make it
onto a siding to let the southbound Metrolink train pass. It was reported that the Metrolink
train came around the corner before all of the freight train could get from the left track
to the right track. The Metrolink train hit the last third of the intermodal train. Several
tractor trailers were knocked off the train, burst open, and are in flames.
All the Metrolink cars are still standing, but the locomotive has derailed. The Metrolink
train is not on fire. So far, there
are 12 to 18 injuries reported. Fortunately, this was the southbound Metrolink train heading
against the rush hour traffic. This train is really just a repositioning move. Some of the
Metrolink trains taking commuters into Los Angeles head back out to the suburbs to make
a second run to take more passengers into Los Angeles. Rather than run empty, Metrolink
stops at the stations on the reverse run and has developed some regular business carrying
a few passengers on these reverse runs.
TrainWeb has the video of all traffic through the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot from this
morning, including communication between the Dispatcher and both trains. We will be
reviewing this tape after it reaches the end at about 11:30 AM today. Video of the
northbound freight train involved in the accident prior to the collision will be on this
Ray Burns did arrive at 8:45 AM after having been delayed in the traffic caused by this
accident, just as I suspected. Ray headed back to obtain photos of this incident.
At 9:15 AM there are still additional emergency vehicles being sent to the accident. About
every 5 minutes, sirens from emergency vehicles can be heard heading to the accident, or
some of them could be ambulances heading to hospitals from the accident. The last of the
fire is being put out at this time. The Metrolink did not burn, but the locomotive has been
singed by the fire.
1999-Nov-18 09:30 AM:
People at the scene said that the Metrolink tried to stop 2 or 3 times before the collision.
The imact of the collision blew out many of the windows in the commuter train. Ironically,
last week, Fullerton practiced a "Mass Casualty Drill". They will be putting some of those
practiced skills to work today.
Latest reports are that there are 15 injured. There are 7 ambulances heading from the
scene with injured right now and another 7 or 8 ambulances loading up with more
passengers. Passengers are on stretchers on the ground being treated. The Metrolink
engineer is at a nearby picnic bench with a few bruises and pretty shaken up. He is
not yet ready to talk with reporters about the collision.
The Dispatcher is trying to coordinate with various BNSF freight trains out on the lines
blocked by this incident. She is trying to get each train into nearby yards or sidings to
clear traffic off the mainline. At some time, the Metrolink and BNSF intermodal involved
in this collision will need to be moved off the tracks. Thus, all traffic between these
trains and the yards where they will be taken needs to be cleared from the tracks.
A father arrived with his child at the station about 9:30 AM to watch trains, but ended
up in our office when he realized there would not be any trains to watch for quite a while!
They stayed for just a short while looking at the
Fullerton Railway Plaza Association (FRPA)
model for the museum to be built by the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot.
A number of people from FRPA came in the office about 9 AM. They were planning on taking the
train up to Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) for the unvailing of the new Amtrak Pacific
Surfliner Service. This was just to be an announcement of the new service with photos and
paintings of the new trainsets along with display of the new service mark. The governor of
Califoria is planned to be there along with most of Amtrak's Board of Directors and officials
from many of the cities up and down the Amtrak San Diegan Line (to be renamed the
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner line when the new equipment is introduced in the Spring of 2000).
No equipment is expected to be on display. Ray and I plan to be at this event. But, like the
FRPA people, it looks like we will be driving to Los Angeles instead of taking Amtrak!
Train service through Fullerton will probably not resume through Fullerton until late this
afternoon, at best!
1999-Nov-18 11:45 AM:
According to Sgt. Joe Cline of the Fullerton Police Department, there were 65 passeners
on the train and 8 people were injured. The most serious of the injuries was a broken leg.
Playing back our video shows BNSF DASH-9 Freight Train #4508 heading west through Fullerton at
7:52 A.M. on the central track. This is the track that BNSF calls Track #2, but for which the
Fullerton Station has no name for, or maybe is called Track #3. The Fullerton Station calls
Track #2 what BNSF calls Track #3. In the video, we saw several of the UPS tractor-trailor
truck bodies that we later photographed at the wreck site. The soundtrack of the videotape
also indicates that the first report to the Dispatcher about the derailment was at 8:15 AM.
Thus, the derailment must have occured just prior to that time, probably at 8:13 or 8:14 AM.
There was additional conversation between the Dispatcher and the Metrolink train after the
accident, but we could only hear the Dispatcher side of the conversation.
The report relayed to the Dispatcher at 8:15 AM was that there is fire on the Metrolink,
that the Metrolink had derailed and that a freight train collided with it. The report about
fire on the Metrolink itself was not correct and we are still waiting for more details to
get the correct story about which train hit which train.
The current story is that both the BNSF train and the Metrolink train were traveling on the
same track. That would have to be the middle track. The BNSF train was heading west and the
Metrolink train (Train #602 to Oceanside) was traveling east.
Prior to arriving into Fullerton, the Metrolink train would have to switch to the track
at the south passenger platform (the one BNSF calls Track #3 and the Fullerton Depot calls
Track #2). We've heard that the BNSF train was switching off the middle track onto another
track. This train was 6,300 feet long. The front end of the train may have made it all the
way off of the middle track, but evidently the train separated while making this maneuver,
leaving some cars still on the middle track as the Metrolink train came around the corner!
Contrary to earlier reports about many windows beling blown out on the Metrolink train, other
passengers just said that some windows were shattered. Ray Burns did not see any windows that
had been blown out of the train.
At about 10 A.M., the TrainWeb office was just about overrun with staff from the Orange
County Register and railfans from downstairs! We provided as much material as we could
to them about the accident.
Although they were glad to find the wealth of information and photos that we had already
gathered about the incident, there were some problems in the compatibility of media.
Generally we do not take the type of high-resolution or 35mm photos often used in print media
since we target an online audience where file size and download speed are a concern. Also,
our radio coverage of transmissions from the trains only extends about 1/4 mile down the
tracks. We can hear the dispatcher fine because that transmitter is pretty powerful. The
transmitters onboard the train are not as powerful. Though we could extend our range with
a roof antenna, we never felt the need since our only purpose of capturing the radio
transmission was just to accompany the video of the trains through the depot.
Most of the damaged intermodal cars were carrying United Parcel Service (UPS) trailors.
Staff from UPS was on the scene less that 30 minutes after the accident making an assesment
of the damage.
At about 11:30 AM, Ray headed off without me to cover the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
announcements in Los Angeles Union Station. There are only one or two major stories that
TrainWeb feels obligated to cover each month. Unfortunately, like today, they will sometimes
fall on the same day and we need to be in two places at once! I opted to stay at the office
to continue coverage of this story while Ray went to get photographs and some details from
At 12:40 AM, the Amtrak staff announced that there is no Amtrak service at this time due to
the freight derailment. It does not seem that Amtrak is running any buses to substitute for
the missing train service.
1999-Nov-18 02:15 PM:
The first train came through since this morning at 2:15 PM. It was just two BNSF locomotives
down the middle track. They will probably use these locomotives to pull away the remaining
segment of the intermodal train that is still upright on the track.
1999-Nov-18 02:45 PM:
The first Amtrak announcement was made regarding bus service being substituted for southbound
rail service. The first bus left Fullerton heading south at 2:50 PM.
A radio announcement just indicated that all Metrolink passengers returning home today will
be sent on the San Bernardino line from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, and then will be sent
south west on the Metrolink Inland Empire Line to Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano,
and Oceanside. This will add more than one hour to their commute. Passengers going from
Los Angeles to stations between Los Angeles and Orange will be taken by bus.
The following was posted with permission from Gene Poon:
The accident seems to sort out as follows:
Westbound BNSF intermodal freight at BASTA, going from triple
track to double track, crossing from center track to North
track (the one on engineer's right). Metrolink train #600,
a counter-current positioning run which accepts passengers,
coming east (compass southbound from LAX) struck the BNSF about
3/4 of the way back. Metrolink engine 865 derailed, upright;
passenger cars derailed, upright. Estimated 15-19 injuries, minor.
Several BNSF flats derailed and overturned, trailers fell off
and several caught on fire.
BASTA is 50mph, both on straight track and thru the crossovers.
Metrolink had just come off 75mph track about 0.8 miles previous.
1999-Nov-18 03:45 PM:
Amtrak has just made an announcement that all northbound passengers should come to the ticket
window. Usually this is done to find out how many passengers are waiting for the northbound
train. If it is not too many, they will often just transport them by taxi or van to Los Angeles.
Otherwise, they have to arrange for a bus.
1999-Nov-18 04:05 PM:
The first eastbound freight train just went by. This might have been part of the train
that was involved in the derailment.
1999-Nov-19 08:50 AM:
As of this morning, rail service has resumed for Metrolink, Amtrak and BNSF.
More details will be posted to this page as they become available.
Click here to read TrainWeb's comments
on the safety of rail travel