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Times' computer-assisted report traces danger across L.A.'s Metrolink system

September 25, 2009 | 12:30 pm

The regional rail system known as Metrolink developed its reputation as the nation’s most deadly commuter line based largely on four dramatic accidents, the most recent being last year’s head-on crash with a freight train in Chatsworth.

That collision, the worst rail disaster in modern California history, killed 25.

But accidents with passenger injuries and deaths are only part of Metrolink’s troubled safety history.

This weekend, The Times will publish an exclusive database map of all reported accidents and incidents on the Metrolink rail system over its 15 years of operation leading up to the Chatsworth crash.

The research, led by Times Database Editor Doug Smith, shows that the majority of people killed by trains have not been passengers, but drivers and pedestrians who were on the tracks.

Not counting the Chatsworth crash, at least 212 people have been killed by Metrolink or other trains. And many of the most dangerous spots are where tracks cross city streets in the San Fernando Valley.

Metrolink has failed to do much about these "grade-crossing” incidents — unlike its sister agency, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which erected safety guards that significantly reduced pedestrian deaths along its Blue Line light rail system from Los Angeles to Long Beach.

Included in The Times’ package of news reports, videos and interactive graphics will be Sherry Griswold’s recollection of the day in March 1997 when her son, David Michael, was killed by a Southern Pacific freight train near San Fernando Road.

In the video above by Smith and Times reporter Rich Connell, she calls for new safety improvements to reduce the odds people will wander into harm’s way.

-- William Nottingham