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Light rail crash operator: ‘By the time I realized he was on my track, it was too late.’

Video: ‘I thought ... I was just going to get smashed,’ light rail train operator says

The operator of the light rail train that ran into a maintenance car August 22, 2019, told riders minutes later there was nothing he could do to stop the crash, and that he thought he was going to be “smashed” when the trains hit, video shows..
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The operator of the light rail train that ran into a maintenance car August 22, 2019, told riders minutes later there was nothing he could do to stop the crash, and that he thought he was going to be “smashed” when the trains hit, video shows..

The operator of the light rail train that crashed into an in-maintenance train in north Sacramento Thursday said by the time he saw the other train on his track it was too late to stop.

The unnamed operator told passengers afterward he thought he was going to be “smashed” in the seconds before the 9:38 p.m. crash, according to a recording made by a passenger.

That passenger, Marian Noriega, told The Sacramento Bee the incident happened en route to the Watt Avenue-Interstate 80 station without warning and without apparent braking by the operator. She said the crash was violent enough to snap her head back and knock others over.

“It was so loud and so hard,” the North Highlands resident said. “The lights went out. The thing was tilted.”

Noriega said looked back after the crash to see a Sacramento Regional Transit fare officer and another passenger on the floor.

The train, carrying 24 people, ran into another train car that has been parked by maintenance workers on the track near the Sacramento Regional Transit’s maintenance facility, according to transit officials. The other train car, which carried three SacRT workers, was being serviced and tested on the rail line, officials said.

Thirteen people were injured, all with minor injuries, according to SacRT. Noriega and others were taken to hospitals for checks. Noriega said she spent the night in the hospital and that her neck and back continue to hurt.

A brief video Noriega took after the crash does not show the operator of the train, but recorded his voice as he spoke to passengers.

“By the time I realized he was on my track it was too late,” he says. SacRT has not identified the operator.

A passenger asks him on the recording if he is OK.

“Luckily, a lot more OK than I thought I was going to be,” he says. “I thought for sure I was just going to get smashed. I’m glad the glass (windshield) went out instead of came in. I feel glass on my skin here and there.”

Photos of the train after the crash showed the windshield of the train pushed outward.

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the California Public Utilities Commission.

SacRT officials declined comment on details of the incident pending the outcome of those reviews.

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