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NTSB Blames Texting Engineer for 2008 Metrolink Crash

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 8:42 AM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Metrolink, Derailment, Rail Safety, Commuter Train, Glendale, NTSB, Texting

Metrolink crash blamed on the engineer texting, but safety backups could have saved lives.

Texting Engineer

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IMAGE SOURCE: Los Angeles Times blog Web site / Metrolink crash, September 12, 2008

The investigation is concluded into the deadly September 12, 2008 collision of a commuter train with a freight train in Chatsworth, California that killed 25 and injured 135.

The engineer was texting a message to young engineer fans from his phone as he passed a stop signal.

The engineer’s prolific text messaging was “egregious,” said NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman, reports the Los Angeles Times. “This was an accident waiting to happen.”

Engineer, Robert Sanchez was killed in the head-on crash of two trains traveling at 40 mph. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that all of the mechanical systems appeared to be working properly.

The 16-month investigation also concluded that the collision could have been avoided had an automated system that stops trains when humans fail, could have been installed.

Sanchez had been planning to sneak one of his young railroad fans onto the train later in the day – a violation of workplace rules, according to the report. He had sent and received 43 text messages the day of the collision.

Lawsuits filed against Metrolink, Veolia Transportation, Inc. and Connex Railroad LLC hope to show that authorities were aware Sanchez had engaged in this behavior previously, but was never disciplined or fired.

IB member Paul Kiesel, of Kiesel, Boucher, Larson LLP filed the first lawsuit against Metrolink on behalf of the parents of Aida Magdaleno. The California State University, Northridge 19-year-old sophomore was going to school to become a social worker.

Kiesel tells IB News, “This is strong evidence of a compelling lapse of human judgment and attention.”

Rail Safety

The collision has lawmakers calling for an overhaul of the nation’s seventh-largest commuter rail system. An analysis by the Daily News in 2008, found it responsible for nearly two-thirds of the nation’s passenger deaths over the last six years.

The crash and subsequent investigation has renewed calls for an automated technology that can stop trains in the event of human error. Metrolink has plans to install a $201 million positive train control system by 2012.

The NTSB recommends that all commuter trains install cameras and audio recorders to monitor train operators.

And the 15-hour work day that is occasionally required of engineers and conductors raised concerns with NTSB board members.

“The real tragedy here is it took 25 more lives to be lost for people to listen and to focus on the things we've raised before," Hersman said. "We've talked about a tombstone mentality in the past, but I think we saw it in spades in this accident."

In October, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation that bans texting while driving. California joined Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington - all states that ban text messaging while driving. The law went into effect one year ago. #


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