Records Confirm LA Train Crash Engineer Was Text Messaging On the Job

The engineer driving a Metrolink train involved in a fatal Southern California <"">train crash last Friday was text messaging while he worked.  However, it is not clear if he was doing so at the time of the accident.  The commuter train crashed outside Los Angeles  after running a stop signal,  killing 25 people and injuring 138.

Over the weekend, an LA TV station reported that two teenage train buffs were claiming that the Metrolink train’s engineer, 46-year-old Robert Sanchez – also among those killed in the crash – had been text messaging them in the moments before the crash.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) subpoenaed Sanchez’s phone records and on Wednesday issued a statement confirming  that he “had sent and received text messages on the day of the accident, including some while he was on duty.”  Investigators do not yet know what time those messages were sent.

The agency said it also has been in contact with the two teenagers who were exchanging text messages with Sanchez.

Metrolink rules do not allow  train operators to use cell phones or other electronic devices while on duty.  NTSB has interviewed the Metrolink train conductor who had worked with Sanchez since April, but the conductor did not report any issues with Sanchez’s job performance.  Sanchez was not an actual Metrolink employee, but was a subcontractor who worked for another company.

News that the train engineer could have been text messaging while operating the train has sparked calls for the cell phone ban.  The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates trains in the state, is scheduled to vote on such an order today.

The fatal Metrolink train crash occurred around 4:22 last Friday, near Chatsworth, California, at the west end of the San Fernando Valley.  Officials said 220 people were aboard the Metrolink train, which was heading from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Ventura County. The commuter train was traveling at 42 mph when it ran head-on into a Union Pacific freight train traveling in the opposite direction.  The impact of the collision rammed the commuter train’s  engine backward, jamming it deep into the first passenger car.  The Associated Press reported that the Metrolink train was so mangled that some bodies had to be removed in pieces. In addition to the fatalities, 138 passengers were injured.

According to the NTSB, Sanchez for some reason failed to stop at the final red signal, which forced the train onto a track where the Union Pacific freight was traveling.  Three signals that should have warned the engineer to stop before hitting a freight train appear to have been working and visible prior to last week’s catastrophic collision, investigators said.

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