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Truck hits car, then collides with train in Pacoima; 2 critically injured

A Toyota Camry that had pulled over for a police car with its siren blaring was rear-ended by a Nissan pickup Wednesday morning in the San Fernando Valley, with the impact sending the truck careening onto nearby railroad tracks, where it was struck by a Metrolink commuter train, authorities said.

A 38-year-old Sun Valley man driving the pickup and a child younger than 2 in the Toyota were critically injured. The child had been strapped into a car seat in the back, authorities said.

The collisions occurred about 7 a.m., halting train service on the Antelope Valley Line at the height of the morning rush. The No. 201 train was traveling north to Lancaster.

Witnesses told investigators that the pickup was heading north on North San Fernando Road in Pacoima when it smashed into the Toyota, which had pulled over near Branford Street for the police car approaching from the opposite direction.

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The sedan was knocked off the road and onto a dirt strip along the tracks, Los Angeles Police Officer Rosario Herrera said. The pickup landed on the tracks, and after being hit by the train, the truck ended up on its roof a short distance from the sedan.

The child’s mother, 35, of North Hills, and her boyfriend were in stable but guarded condition at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, officials said. A Fire Department helicopter flew the child from Providence to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

Authorities did not identify any of the injured.

Eight of the train’s 36 passengers complained of minor injuries, said Metrolink spokeswoman Angela Starr.

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Six were treated at the scene and two were taken to the hospital at their request.

When Los Angeles firefighters arrived, the Nissan pickup was so damaged that they could not immediately tell its make or model, according to Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the department.

Metrolink, the California Public Utilities Commission and the Los Angeles Police Department are investigating.

A PUC investigator was on the scene half an hour after the accident occurred, said Denise Terrell, a spokeswoman for the commission.

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The Federal Railroad Administration, which investigates some accidents, will not be involved. Rob Kulat, a spokesman for the administration, acknowledged the “unusual set of circumstances” of the accident but said it did not appear to involve malfunctioning safety equipment.

Starr said investigators would look at the data from three cameras that were placed on all Metrolink locomotives in October, one that shows the tracks in front of the engine, one in the cab facing the engineer and another showing the control panel.

The $1-million camera initiative made Metrolink the first railway in the country to use this type of system.

It was installed in the aftermath of the Chatsworth crash last year in which 25 people died and 135 were injured, one of the deadliest rail collisions in modern California history.

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The crash was blamed on an engineer who apparently ran a red light while sending a text message on his cellphone just before colliding head-on with a freight train.

Investigators studying Wednesday’s crash will also examine the train’s tapes, Starr said, which record data such as speed and radio transmissions, and measure braking distances, similar to a black box on an airplane.

“There was no indication the driver [of the train] was doing anything other than what he was supposed to,” said Richard Katz, vice chairman of Metrolink’s board.

The maximum train speed in that area is 79 mph, said Francisco Oaxaca, a Metrolink spokesman.

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Although no major Metrolink wrecks have occurred since the Chatsworth disaster, smaller accidents involving cars and pedestrians are running about the same this year as last -- 3.25 and 3.4 per month, respectively, the agency recently reported.

Experts have noted that even if a proposed $200-million high-tech, train-on-train collision avoidance system is deployed as planned, it is not designed to prevent crashes with cars driven around safety gates or stuck on tracks at crossings.

Metrolink has been working to separate street and rail traffic with overpasses to avoid potentially deadly collisions such as Wednesday’s crash.

However, grade-separating the entire system could cost billions of dollars by some estimates.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

Times staff writer Rich Connell contributed to this report.


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