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Emergency crews worked desperately through the night and into Saturday, ripping into a mangled train car to search for an unknown number of people trapped in a horrific train wreck in Los Angeles.
A Metrolink commuter train carrying 222 people collided head-on with a freight train on Friday afternoon, killing at least 12 people and injuring about 135. The death toll was expected to increase as firefighters dug deeper into the wreckage.
Firefighters put out a fire under part of the train and pulled people from the passenger car, which was rested on its side with the Metrolink engine shoved inside it. Two other Metrolink cars remained upright.
The train wreck shocked those who first saw it.
Leslie Burnstein heard screams of agony as she ran through a smoky haze toward a wrecked train where dozens of bloodied passengers were still trapped inside. She pulled victims out one by one, some weeping as they looked about at the destruction.
"It was horrendous," said Burnstein, a psychologist who saw the train crash from her home. "Blood was everywhere. ... I heard people yelling, screaming in pain, begging for help."
The engine of the Union Pacific freighter was left on its side, its nose against the Metrolink wreckage. The rest of the freight train was strewn behind it.
Fire Chief Douglas Barry said heavy equipment was brought in to take apart cars, including one with victims still trapped inside.
"This is the worst accident I've ever seen," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "Clearly the injuries are going to mount and so are the fatalities."
Dr Marc Eckstein, medical director for the city Fire Department, said 135 people were taken to hospitals - about 85 of them in serious or critical condition.
In the initial hours after the disaster, firefighters treated the injured at three triage areas near the wreck, and helicopters flew in and out of a nearby landing area on medical evacuation flights.
Rescuers worked atop the wreckage and through breaches in the passenger car to reach victims. Dazed and injured passengers sat on the ground.
One injured man told KNBC-TV he boarded the Metrolink train in suburban Burbank and was talking with a fellow passenger when the crash occurred.
"Within an instant I was in my friend's lap. It was so quick. It was devastating," he said.
Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said the Metrolink train left Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and was headed north-west to Moorpark in Ventura County. The trains collided about 4.30pm in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley.
"I do not know what caused the wreck," said Tyrrell who broke down crying. "Obviously two trains are not supposed to be on the same track at the same time."
Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond said it was common in California for freight and commuter trains to share the same track.
The crash happened in an area where the tracks form a "U" shape. At the top of the bend is a 150-metre long tunnel.
On the north side of the tunnel, there is a siding, a length of track where one train can wait for another to pass, Tyrrell said.
The federal investigation into the crash will be headed by the National Transportation Safety Board, said Steven Kulm, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration.
The FRA will conduct a review of whether any federal rail safety regulations were violated.
Asked how the two trains ended up on the same track, Kulm said, "We are nowhere near having any information on that".
Prior to Friday, the worst disaster in Metrolink's history occurred on January 26, 2005, in suburban Glendale when a man parked a petrol-soaked SUV on railroad tracks. A Metrolink train struck the SUV and derailed, striking another Metrolink train travelling the other way, killing 11 people and injuring about 180 others.
Juan Alvarez was convicted this year of murder for causing that crash.
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