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SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Loud Explosion Traced to Train

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The cause of a loud explosion that left frayed nerves, a damaged residence, and some big pieces of metal has been determined.

A Santa Fe railroad spokesman said Tuesday that a Santa Fe locomotive traveling from Barstow to San Diego was passing through South County on Sunday when its braking system overheated and “blew out” the cooling fans.

A turbine blade and pieces of metal weighing 10 to 30 pounds blew off the train as it passed Oso Road in San Juan Capistrano about 4 p.m., an Orange County sheriff’s deputy spokesman said.

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The flying parts damaged a residence, Santa Fe spokesman Mike Martin said.

“We’re happy no one was injured,” Martin said. “Apparently, some pieces damaged some sort of structure there, either an apartment or condominium complex. I’m sure that nearby residents are concerned about trains going by there throwing off metal parts. We can’t guarantee this is not ever happening again, but it is a very rare occurrence.”

When the locomotive’s brakes are applied, it puts a drag on the wheels and heat then travels up on electrical grids that are cooled by large turbine blades three feet across that sit atop the rear of the locomotive.

However, in this case, Martin said the cooling system malfunctioned, “and as a result, disintegrated the fan.”

“We take pride in making sure our locomotives operate properly and we’re certainly not cutting any corners in our maintenance,” Martin said.

The debris came from a fan blade and a metal grille from one of the locomotives pulling the 4,370-ton train with 46 cars, Martin said.

The track is used by both Santa Fe and Amtrak. After hearing of the incident, Amtrak officials inspected five of its locomotives that were operating between Los Angeles and San Diego that day.

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“We checked our trains operating as early as 6 in the morning to as late as 9:30 p.m. and couldn’t find anything wrong or any locomotives with missing parts,” Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black said.

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