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Train service is fully restored

(The following article by Caitlin Liu and Veronica Torrejon was posted on the Los Angeles Times website on February 1.)

LOS ANGELES -- Though many riders stayed away, Metrolink trains resumed regular service through the San Fernando Valley on Monday, five days after a massive crash killed 11 people, injured about 180 and destroyed railroad tracks near Glendale.

"It's on time. It's running well," said Denise Tyrrell, spokeswoman for the commuter-rail agency. "Everything worked perfectly. No glitches of any sort."

But inside the passenger compartments, where many riders had forged close friendships, life was not fully back to normal on the two lines that pass through the Valley to downtown Los Angeles and were directly affected by the crash involving two oncoming commuter trains and a sidelined freight train.

Authorities say the tragedy was triggered when an apparently suicidal man drove an SUV onto the tracks. Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, who jumped from the vehicle before the southbound train hit it just after 6 a.m. Wednesday, has been charged with 11 counts of murder.

Last week, the lines experienced a 70% drop-off in ridership after the crash. On Monday, about 2,700 people climbed aboard the Ventura County line, about 36% fewer than the usual 4,200 riders, according to Metrolink. Some 5,300 commuters rode the Antelope Valley line Monday, down about 22% from the typical weekday ridership of 6,800.

Normally chatty riders fell into a somber silence Monday morning and some sobbed as their train rolled past the site of Wednesday's grisly crash along the border of Glendale and the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles.

"It was quiet. You could tell people were crying. I know I was. You felt kind of empty," said Carol Lopez-Lippert, a Los Angeles Fire Department employee who rides from Van Nuys to Union Station.

She was ill Wednesday and not on board during the accident in which her friend, Julia Bennett, 44, of Simi Valley, was killed.

Thursday and Friday, as crews removed wreckage and repaired torn-up tracks, Metrolink reduced service on the affected Ventura County and Antelope Valley lines to three round trips each per day. Buses ferried passengers between the Glendale and Burbank stations, which added 10 to 20 minutes per trip.

On Monday, service was back to the usual 10 round-trip trains on the Ventura County line and 12 round trips on the Antelope Valley line. The two routes share the same set of tracks through the east San Fernando Valley.

Passengers Monday said they still prefer the train any day to sitting in stop-and-go traffic on a freeway, and that they were glad that service was back on its regular schedule.

"I wouldn't be working downtown if it wasn't for the train. I'd quit my job if I had to drive every day," said Theresa Costin, a paralegal, just before her train pulled out of Union Station for the San Fernando Valley. "It's still the best way to travel."

She and her friends were passing around a sympathy card to sign for the family of Thomas Ormiston, 58, of Northridge, a train conductor who was killed in the crash.

"I don't even know him, but we are a family, a train family," Costin said.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

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