Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

What it's like to be on a Metro Train when an accident happens

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I was on the Gold Line train that killed a man Saturday; it was a strange and awful experience. 

I was riding the Gold Line to Pasadena with my wife and couple friends from out of town. They'd never been on the train in LA before.

A couple miles past the Highland Park station, where the train crosses Monterey and Pasadena Avenue, the train stopped suddenly. That's never a good sign. We heard the driver apply the emergency brake and braced for a hard stop. Instead, the train stopped smoothly. Nobody fell over. The bikes stayed upright. 

We didn't know what had happened — on the train, you can only see out the side windows. But then passengers started relating the reactions of people outside. One shouted that she'd seen a witness outside cross herself. Somebody else saw a woman crying in her car. Something terrible had happened.

We had hit a pedestrian — a man who apparently hadn't responded to the train's horn or the bells at the crossing gate. 

On the train, we didn't feel a thing.

We couldn't leave at first, and in the commotion, it was hard to hear the train operator's announcements. I can't imagine what else he was dealing with. The police showed up and started redirecting traffic and beginning the investigation. After maybe 15 minutes a white SUV with the Metro logo on its side arrived. The driver came out with a step ladder and helped us get out. We exited the right side of the train — the body was on the left. A shuttle would come by in a little while, they said.

I'd reported on train accidents before. I've ridden Metro rail on and off for about 10 years. When I did a story on the Blue Line in 2011, the line had recorded 103 deaths; some pedestrians, others in cars. Saturday's incident was the fourth death in the Gold Line's 11 years of operation. 

Walking away, I wondered: did the victim have family in the area? Why didn't he move out of the way? Did he even know what hit him? It's a bizarre feeling — you're a part of the accident, but, at least speaking for myself, sort of disconnected. 

As the sun set, the shuttle arrived. Everyone went their separate ways.

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