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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Train Collision Kills 2 in California

PLACENTIA, California -- They were left dazed, bloodied and shellshocked. Some were thrown from their seats, others clambered from windows of the mangled train.

The morning trip to work turned into a frightening and deadly experience for Southern California commuters when a freight train smashed head-on into their doubledecker passenger train, killing two people and injuring 260.

"It sounded like a bomb and it felt like an earthquake," said Jackie Bisesi, who witnessed Tuesday's crash.

Marion Blakey, chairwoman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said a malfunctioning signal may have been to blame, although she said it was too early to draw conclusions.

"From everything we have seen and that we know, if the signal was functioning properly the Burlington Northern [freight] train would have had a red signal at that point," Blakey said.

She did not elaborate about the signal, but said the Metrolink commuter train should have been diverted to a different track but did not have a chance to get there.

About 162 people were taken to 10 hospitals after the crash, said Orange County fire authority captain Steve Miller. He said 19 were described as having serious injuries.

One of the two men killed was identified as Robert Kube, 59, of Moreno Valley. His family said he had been commuting to work at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Santa Ana. The identity of the other man was not released.

People who witnessed the accident said the Metrolink train came to a stop at a crossing and was hit moments later by the freight train. Metrolink passenger Bill Marin, 50, said some riders stood up, apparently thinking their train had reached its next station. "The people who were standing seemed to be the worst injured," he said.

The accident occurred less than an hour before several Californian county agencies were scheduled to participate in a mass casualty drill. As a result, emergency personnel were on the scene within minutes.

NTSB investigators believe the freight train's brakes were working properly, Blakey said, adding that the train's crew applied them 640 meters before the crash. The freight train shoved the passenger train about 113 meters down the track, she said.

The freight train's crew, an engineer and conductor, leapt from their locomotive just before the crash, said NTSB operations manager Ted Turpin.

NTSB investigators have retrieved the event recorders that provide mechanical data on the trains, such as the speed, braking maneuvers and use of horn at the time of the crash.

Richard Russack, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, said the freight train was en route from Los Angeles to Clovis, New Mexico, carrying 67 loaded containers. There were no hazardous materials aboard, he said.

Southbound Metrolink 809 was traveling from Riverside to San Juan Capistrano on a route that has 12 trains and 3,000 passenger boardings each day.