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In 1956, 30 died as train left the rails

September 14, 2008|Kate Linthicum | Times Staff Writer

On a cool winter night in 1956, a passenger train on its way to San Diego lurched off a curve near the Los Angeles River, killing 30 people and injuring 130.

It was Los Angeles' deadliest rail disaster.

The Santa Fe Railway train was traveling too fast that night, Jan. 22, an investigation later determined. The train's engineer admitted to speeding.

The scene at the crash site -- southeast of downtown at the Redondo junction near Washington Boulevard and Soto Street -- was chaotic.

While rescue workers worked to pry victims from the wreckage, police clashed with journalists trying to cover the story. Doctors, clergymen, volunteers and looters swarmed around the wreck as frantic relatives went from hospital to hospital in search of loved ones.

Later, the FBI found that the Los Angeles Police Department's attempts to protect the scene had generated even more pandemonium. In response, Police Chief William Parker created the LAPD's press relations unit.

Many victims and relatives of those killed in the crash sued the railroad, which settled 168 cases for about $30 million.

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