Universal Studios tram riders were seriously injured in crash, lawyer says

Visitors take a Universal Studios Tram Tour in 2023.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
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A passenger on a Universal Studios tram car that crashed into a guardrail on Saturday estimates the ride reached speeds up to 20 to 25 mph after the driver apparently lost control of the tram, which is much faster than the usual slow pace of the attraction, according to the man’s attorney.

Fifteen passengers aboard the tram received “minor to moderate injuries” after the ride crashed shortly after 9 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said in a report. The linked tram cars had passed by a set of props from the “Jurassic Park” film franchise when the tram driver turned onto Avenue M, and for some unknown reason the last car in the procession collided with the metal guardrail on the right side, the CHP said. This caused the tram to “tilt and eject multiple passengers from the tram,” authorities said in the report.

Details of the accident that took place Saturday night — amid the 60th anniversary of the tram ride — remain unclear, but the CHP said the agency has determined that drugs and alcohol were not a factor.


Attorney Steven Dhillon, who represents two adults and an 11-year-old girl injured in the crash, said that one of his adult clients sustained a brain injury after her head hit a metal or plexiglass frame on the tram car.

“She woke up sick with nausea and was vomiting the next morning,” Dhillon said by phone.

After she went to the hospital the following morning, she was told there was bleeding in her brain, according to Dhillon, who did not make his clients available to The Times to discuss their injuries or disclose their names.

Another Dhillon client in the last tram car said that it appeared the driver lost control while going downhill, allowing the tram to accelerate rapidly as the passengers screamed, the attorney said. The guest said the crash exacerbated pain from previous knee and spine surgeries, according to Dhillon, who did not disclose his client’s age.

On Saturday, Lt. Maria Abal with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said there appeared to be an issue with the tram’s brakes. While the Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene of the crash, the CHP is the lead agency in the investigation, a Universal Studios spokesperson said. The CHP has not released the findings of its investigation.

“Our thoughts continue to be with the guests who were involved, and we are thankful that based on agency reports, the injuries sustained were minor,” Universal Studios said in a statement.

The theme park said it was working closely with authorities as it continues its own review of the incident, adding that “safety remains a top priority.”


While the initial reports of injuries appeared minimal, the long-lasting effects of the crash will likely continue to develop over the next several months, Dhillon said. He is currently discussing the situation with Universal Studios.

A spokesperson for Universal Studios did not respond to requests for comment on Dhillon’s claims.

The Studio Tour tram ride will continue to operate with a modified route and the theme park will reinforce its “operational and safety protocols.”

In many ways, the tram ride came to define the theme park.

Over the years, countless riders have enjoyed close encounters with a robotic shark depicting the bloodthirsty star of the movie “Jaws,” a terrifying stop outside the Bates Motel from the film classic “Psycho” and a harrowing escape from the clutches of King Kong.

Newer film franchises have joined the tour, including a stroll through a suburban neighborhood wasted by aliens from the 2005 film “War of the Worlds” and a western-themed sideshow from Jordan Peele’s 2022 movie “Nope.”

The tram tour got its start in 1964 when Universal Studios executives noticed that food sales at the studio commissary shot up after local tour buses were allowed past the studio gates to let fans get a glimpse of the backlot movie sets and props.


The first iteration of the attraction were the pink-and-white Glamour Trams, which carried about 38,200 riders in the first year. Passengers paid $2.50 for a 2½-hour tour that included stops to see a stunt show and a movie makeup exhibition.

Later renamed the Universal Studios Studio Tour, the trams have since endured real-life fires, labor strife, a series of expansions and at least one fatal accident.

The theme park launched a renovation project in 2022 to begin converting the diesel-hydraulic powered vehicles to run on electricity to reduce emissions. It is not clear if the tram that struck the guard rail was a newer electric vehicle or an older version.

This is not the first time an accident happened at the theme park. In 1986, a park employee was run over by the tram during a special Halloween “Fright Nights” show. Paul Rebalde, 20, was stationed on a parked tram filled with mannequins dressed to look like corpses, the Sheriff’s Department said at the time.

While in costume, Rebalde was to leap from among the mannequins on the parked tram and frighten people passing on moving trams. But the stunt went wrong when Rebalde jumped and became trapped between the third and fourth sections of one four-section tram, was run over and dragged to his death, according to authorities. The Halloween-themed attraction was paused for several years and later rebranded “Halloween Horror Nights.”

More recently, a stunt performer was hospitalized after performing in the “Waterworld” show in January 2023. The performer was set on fire shortly before taking a leap off a tower in the show’s finale. The “Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular” show is inspired by the 1995 Kevin Costner film and opened months after the movie’s debut.


Times editor Hugo Martin contributed to this report.