Service disruptions continue as NTSB begins investigation of light-rail crash

Delays are likely to continue through Friday for a portion of the Regional Transit light-rail system after after one its trains carrying 24 passengers collided with a maintenance train in north Sacramento. The crash hurt 13 people, including two people who suffered moderate injuries, officials said.

Latest: Federal investigators on scene at head-on light rail injury crash in north Sacramento

A bus bridge is in place to ferry RT passengers from its North Highlands station to the Marconi-Arcade stop, which is expected to be used throughout the day, RT said.

It is the second collision to occur between two trains in Sacramento since since RT began operating light-rail service in 1987.

The commuter vehicles remained cordoned off where the crash took place at 7 a.m. Friday as the investigation into what happened ramps up. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said the federal agency would be dispatching a team of investigators to the crash site.

The two-car passenger train carrying 24 crashed into a stopped single-car maintenance train, carrying three workers, while it was performing work in the area around 9:40 p.m., said Devra Selenis, spokeswoman for Regional Transit. The crash was a few hundred yards north of RT’s main maintenance yard.

The collision occurred in a dark and isolated area of rails parallel to Roseville Road and Del Paso Park where RT tracks cross Arcade Creek. The scene of the accident was between RT’s Winter Street station, where the tracks cross under Interstate 80 and into Sacramento city limits, and Marconi Avenue.

Thirteen people were transported to hospitals, including one RT employee, who suffered a moderate injury to his leg, Selenis said.

Others aboard the commuter line, described as “walking wounded,” were treated at the scene and released, said Capt. Keith Wade, spokesman for the Sacramento Fire Department.

The crash is causing delays for some morning commuters who ride RT from the Watt Avenue-Interstate 80 station toward downtown. A bus bridge has been set up between the Watt/I-80 station in North Highlands and the Marconi-Arcade station, according to a service alert on Regional Transit’s website. Selenis said that the bus bridge would likely stay in place through Friday’s afternoon rush.

At the crash Thursday night, fifteen ambulances and more than 40 firefighters responded to the crash. Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District crews, private ambulances and the Sacramento Police Department assisted in the incident.

Capt. Keith Wade of the Sacramento Fire Department said that firefighters were initially called to the scene for a “motor vehicle accident with a possible extrication,” and came upon the train in a difficult area away from streets.

“The good thing here that we’re very happy that no one lost their life and that no one was in any critical condition,” Wade said.

In an open field west of the incident, the cars were seen upright and appeared to be on the tracks in two sets, separated by about 25 feet of rail, as riders were escorted to a staging area several yards away in the Hagginwood neighborhood of the city just before 10 p.m.

Morning’s light showed the trains, a blue-and-gold passenger train with its driver window pushed out and a blue-and-white service train, resting on the tracks.

“Sounded like a big crash,” said Andrew Hernandez, who lives nearby. “We thought it was an accident (on the street). Then, we looked out and saw all the ambulances flying down the street.”

On Feb. 8, 1999, 30 people were injured in midtown when an RT train carrying passengers on a single-track bridge at 19th and R streets collided head-on with a disabled train that had been allowed to bypass a red signal light, according to previous reporting in The Sacramento Bee.

At the time, RT officials blamed the crash on an error by its radio control center to determine the location of the trains and the use of multiple radio channels by operators and maintenance personnel.

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Molly Sullivan covers crime, breaking news and police accountability for The Bee. She grew up in Northern California and is an alumna of Chico State.
Daniel Hunt is The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news editor; he joined The Bee in 2013 from The Orange County Register and has worked in editing and design roles at newspapers in California and Delaware.