A tragic piece of railroad history rolls back to Los Angeles

It was 53 years ago today that Santa Fe passenger train No. 82 headed from Union Station to San Diego derailed just southeast of Boyle Heights at a place called Redondo Junction near Washington Boulevard and the Los Angeles River. Thirty people were killed during the early evening wreck, one of the nation’s most deadly railroad accidents (25 died in last year’s Metrolink crash). Los Angeles residents watched rescue efforts on Channel 11 in one of the first live TV broadcasts of a local disaster, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive.

After being repaired, the two self-propelled passenger cars returned to rail service outside of California for many more years in the Midwest and East. One car ended up being scrapped but the other car, DC 191, survived and was brought back to Los Angeles about three years ago by the Pacific Railroad Society, which is restoring the car in its facility in the City of Commerce, a few miles east of Redondo Junction.

Why? Local rail fans or foamers obsessed with all things train view DC 191 as a historic relic. It’s not only a reminder of one of the most tragic moment’s in U.S. railroad history but also an example of what was then considered the passenger train of the future: a mass produced, light-weight, stainless steel car that could run on its own or as part of a group. A book about DC 191 and its long-gone sister, DC 192, was published last year, said Pacific Railroad Society president Will Walters.

The restoration is moving slowly since society volunteers work on the trains in their spare time. But they have scraped away layers of paint to reveal some of the original coat of red used by the Santa Fe at the front of the car. The public is invited to take a look at DC 191 by contacting the society.

“It looks in pretty bad shape. It’s escaped the junkyard a couple times,” Walters said. But, “it was involved in a major historical event in railroading in California. We wanted to bring it back to Los Angeles. It belongs here.”

Photo: Los Angeles Fire Department Archive


  1. In every account of this wreck, KTLA Ch. 11 is credited with providing live coverage. In 1956 and today, KTLA is Ch. 5, KTTV is Ch. 11, KHJ is Ch 9 and Ch.13 was KCOP (now KCAL). Small point, yes, but it’s good to get it right. Thanks!

    • I agree with your observation/comment; it was KTLA Ch.5.

      I grew up in Pasadena in the 1950’s and vividly recall watching this event at home on our new TV; and to this day, I recall it was a (young) Stan Chambers who was reporting live from the scene for KTLA channel 5.

      I met Stan many years later (1980’s) and recalled this event with him.

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