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Blue Line train ran signal before hitting police car in Long Beach, videotapes show

The police vehicle had a green light to cross Long Beach Boulevard when it was struck, cameras show. Injured officer remains in hospital.

July 10, 2010|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

A Metro Blue Line train inexplicably ran a stop signal on Wednesday before it struck a Long Beach police car and injured an officer and 10 passengers, according to onboard videotapes reviewed by accident investigators.

Two tapes indicate that the southbound train rolled through the red signal about 1 p.m. and collided with the patrol car in the intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and 16th Street, Long Beach police said Friday.

Officials for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Blue Line's operator, said they could not comment on the videotapes or other specifics of the accident because investigations were pending.

But Marc Littman, an MTA spokesman, said the authority has been improving safety for years on the Blue Line, which held the title as California's deadliest rail transit system in 1999.

"It's rare to see this type of accident today," Littman said. "There's been a marked decrease in train versus vehicle accidents."

The videos were taken by outward facing cameras mounted on the southbound train and a northbound Blue Line train that had stopped at the light and was not involved in the accident.

Based on the tapes, detectives said pedestrians and the police car had a green light allowing them to cross Long Beach Boulevard. The video from the southbound train shows that it had a red light, police added.

The impact pushed the police car down the tracks and pinned the officer inside for about half an hour before firefighters could free him.

The four-year member of the department, whose name was not released, remains hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Authorities said the injured passengers were treated for minor injuries at local hospitals and released.

Littman said the transit agency is conducting its own investigation that includes checking the signals, interviewing the operator and witnesses and an evaluation of the accident scene to determine if the operator for some reason could not see the red light.

A report about the accident is scheduled to be presented to the MTA's operations committee on Thursday.

In 1999, Blue Line trains, which run 22 miles from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles, were involved in accidents that killed 10 people and injured 40 others. Most of the 50 incidents that year involved collisions with motor vehicles at street crossings.

In the last two decades, 26 motorists have died in collisions and 51 pedestrians have been killed by Blue Line trains. Twenty-two deaths were ruled suicides.

Over the years, MTA has taken steps to improve the line's safety, including photo enforcement cameras at street crossings, safer crossing gates at intersections, improved lighting along the line, better signage for motorists and crackdowns by traffic officers.

MTA officials say the improvements have contributed to a sharp decline in the Blue Line's accident rate from 4.09 per 100,000 miles of train travel during the first five years of operation to 1.09 in the last five years. However, pedestrian deaths and suicides have not declined from 2000 to 2009.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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