Engineer texting 22 seconds before deadly train crash: safety board
The engineer of a commuter train sent a text message 22 seconds before a head-on collision with a freight train in suburban Los Angeles that killed 25 people, investigators said Wednesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the cellphone records of Robert Sanchez show he received a text message one minute, 20 seconds before the crash. He then sent one about a minute later.
The commuter train smashed into a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, Calif., on Sept. 12.
Sanchez, 46, died in the crash, which also injured 135 people, nine of them critically.
The same day the findings were released, U.S. Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman announced an emergency order prohibiting use of personal electronic devices by rail workers operating trains and in other positions.
While the order must be published in the Federal Register before it becomes effective, spokesman Rob Kulat expected that to happen "soon."
Sanchez sent his last text message at 4:22:01 p.m. According to the freight train's onboard recorder, the accident occurred at 4:22:23 p.m.
Records obtained from Sanchez's cellphone provider also showed that he sent 24 text messages and received 21 messages over a two-hour period during his morning shift. During his afternoon shift, he received seven and sent five messages.
Crash cause still unknown
NTSB investigators were continuing to correlate times from Sanchez's cellphone, the train recorders and data from the railway signal system.
"I am pleased with the progress of this major investigation to date," acting NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker said in a statement.
"We are continuing to pursue many avenues of inquiry to find what caused this accident and what can be done to prevent such a tragedy in the future."
Board spokesman Terry Williams declined to release information about who was exchanging text messages with Sanchez. A Metrolink board member, Richard Katz, said the NTSB told his agency another engineer who sent a text message around the same time as the collision had been suspended.
Investigators say the two trains were in sight of each other only for a few seconds before the crash. The freight engineer was able to apply brakes but brakes were never applied on the commuter train.
Emergency crews worked through the night and most of the next day to pull injured people and dead bodies from the wreckage.
A Metrolink rail official said at the time that the engineer failed to stop the commuter train at a red signal.
With files from the Associated Press