Eric G. Forbes and his fellow CSUN coworkers had taken the shuttle from Northridge and boarded the Metrolink train early Friday afternoon, heading home. At 4:23 p.m., the Metrolink train collided in Chatsworth, claiming 25 lives and injuring hundreds of others.
Forbes describes himself as one of the fortunate ones. When he got on the train, he made what he says was a conscious decision to not get on the first car. Instead, he boarded the second level of the second car.
Forbes says he wanted to sit on the left side of the car so that he could have a view of the countryside. There was no one in the seat in front of him. The train made its routine stops. At the Chatsworth station, Forbes could see a train coming down the hill headed towards him. ‘As it was approaching us I just kept thinking there aren’t two tracks here, it’s going to crash into us. There was no time to think or warn anyone,’ said Forbes, admissions and records director at CSUN, in a phone interview.
The moment of impact between the two trains caused a big boom sound and the energy inside the train propelled Forbes into the seat in front of him. He was holding on to the seat and had turned as he was pushed forward, injuring his throat as he was thrown on the floor.
‘When it finally stopped moving, there was silence inside the car. I could hear groaning sounds from the people on the floor, it was all surreal. When I finally got up I tried helping others up and then we got the doors open and got off the train,’ said Forbes.
He could see the fire and went back to the train to help as best as he could. Forbes found a fellow coworker and helped her off the train. They had crashed in a remote area and no emergency crews were able to reach them for about 25 minutes.
‘There were a lot of responsible and bright people on the train that helped organize and tried to help those who were seriously injured. Since the rescue team hadn’t arrived yet we tried to do what we could. One man on the train gathered all the fire extinguishers and went to try contain the fire as best as he could,’ said Forbes.
Once the fire department and the police and emergency rescue workers arrived, they separated the victims into groups and led them away from the accident into a park. They were divided into green, yellow and red groups.
The rescue teams then began placing the seriously injured on stretchers and the helicopters were conducting air rescues. Forbes had originally been in the green group ,but was reassigned to the yellow group after his injuries were suspected to have been more severe.
‘I was put into an ambulance and taken to the North Hills hospital were I stayed overnight. I was discharged on Saturday and am still having a hard time speaking and the whiplash from the accident remains,’ said Forbes.
The chaotic situation within the car train was incredibly graphic and the destruction was everywhere, said Forbes. His coworker had sustained injuries and had fainted; she was transported to another hospital.
Contrary to the media reports, Forbes says there were not as many screams coming form the victims as have been suggested. The residents of the area responded by helping with chairs, blankets and basic assistance, said Forbes.
Forbes had begun riding the train this summer to see if it could be an alternative commute. The train was usually packed with commuters, some of whom were CSUN students and staff. That Friday afternoon, there had been a CSUN freshman who had wanted to take the train to Oceanside. Forbes and his coworkers convinced him that he should wait for the train to come back. The student decided not to board the train. Since the train had left early in the afternoon, fewer students and staff had been on it.
‘When the police, fire and emergency people arrived they were beyond exceptional. They had all the right equipment and had organized the rescue effort amazingly. I was impressed with the level of service,’ said Forbes.
‘Now I am just thinking back to the day, and all the fortunate things that had happened. It was fortunate that we had not had the crash in the tunnel, which was close by. I am fortunate to be able to tell this story,’ said Forbes.