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Text Messages Released in Metrolink Train Crash Probe Portray Distraction and Recklessness

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By Admin on March 03, 2009 4:23 PM


Federal investigators probing the September crash of a Metrolink passenger train released text messages at the center of controversy regarding the crash. Records show the Metrolink engineer sending and receiving many text messages while operating the train, including shortly before he ran a purportedly red light and crashed into a Union Pacific freight train, killing 24 passengers and himself.

As reported in the LA Times' LA Now, Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez was twice warned by supervisors about improper use of cell phones while in train control cabins. On the day of the crash, he sent and received 57 text messages, including one 22 seconds before the crash.

Also troubling is that messages from Sanchez show that he allowed rail enthusiasts into the control cabin, which is forbidden by Metrolink policies. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, on that fateful day Sanchez text messaged a teenaged rail enthusiast about plans to let the teen drive the train that evening.

The conductor of the Union Pacific freight train (though not driving at the time) was also texting shortly before the crash. And he tested positive for marijuana.

Despite conflicting accounts, National Transportation Safety Board investigators have determined that the signal light passed by the Metrolink train was red, indicating that Sanchez should have stopped and waited for the other train to pass.

The accident resulted in an emergency order by the Federal Railroad Administration banning use of cell phones and other electronic devices by train operators, as reported by USA Today.

The accident also prompted signing of the Rail Safety Act by President Bush in October. This mandated "positive train control" technology, which can stop a train that runs a red light or goes off the tracks, by 2015. The new laws also limit train operator shifts to 12 hours or less.