In the moments after last Friday's collision between a Metrolink run and a freight train, cell phones across the Southland started to whirr. A communication network that helps hundreds of Southlanders ride the rails more efficiently sprang into action. During a visit to the train station in Chatsworth, KPCC's Brian Watt found out that the network worked.
Brian Watt: Like a lot of Metrolink riders, and the people who love them, Brian Buss knows exactly where he was when Train 111 crashed into an oncoming freightliner.
Brian Buss: I was on the 113 train, just after the 111. I'd just gotten on in Glendale, and a friend of mine called in. He knows I run the Web site.
Watt: The Web site is LAPassenger.com. Via text message or e-mail, the site lets members know about train delays. Its members report the delays. As new users find out on their e-mailed welcome to the site, if a train is delayed 15 minutes or more, LAPassenger.com wants to know.
Buss: And all it takes is one phone call from somebody that might be on a train that was delayed. A train could stop along the route. Or somebody who's waiting at one of the very first stations, like out in Ventura, and that train is late or does not show up. Just one phone call, and hundreds down the line are instantly notified.
Watt: Buss founded the free service. He runs it from his laptop, while he's on the train. He commutes every weekday between Moorpark and Glendale to work as an engineering manager.
Buss: Often, passengers don't find out that the trains are late until they arrive at the station. And this way, passengers... just increasing the communication and kind of forming a community... and it just helps with our schedule, because we're on a very tight, tight schedule. Gotta get to work. And at least it gives us the option of whether to drive in or to wait for the train.
Watt: On the day of the train crash, Huzefa Chithiwala had driven in from Moorpark to downtown Los Angeles to his job as an information technology director.
Huzefa Chithiwala: The LAPassenger.com, as soon as there's a problem with trains, they send me a text message, and that's when I found out. And that worked out good, because I ended up giving a few people rides back. Because, you know, there was no train back.
Watt: In other words, because of the Web site, two of his fellow commuters wound up carpooling in his Honda, not stuck in downtown L.A. looking for a way back to Moorpark. Although Chithiwala drives to work sometimes, he prefers to take the train. Like so many of his fellow riders, he appreciates the camaraderie of rail travel. Some train buddies, he knows by name. Others, only by sight, and by the way they say "hi."
Chithiwala: People are very tight on the train. You know, they have retirement parties. They have birthday parties. You know, it's amazing how you know people. And you always sit on the same car, you know, and so, that's how it works.
Watt: Same car. Same train. Same time every day. For Brian Buss and his fellow riders, the same conductor... until last Friday. The usual conductor, Bob Hildebrand, was working on Train 111 that afternoon.
He survived the crash with injuries. At the Chatsworth station the first weekday after the crash, Brian Buss was inviting passengers to sign a giant "get well soon" card for Hildebrand. Buss described the conductor as "all business" but "very friendly."
Buss: So we're glad that he is alive, we wish him all a speedy recovery. And we look forward to seeing him on the train as soon as possible.
Watt: Now, the Web site Buss founded does more than offer information on train delays. It's collecting donations for families of the crash victims.