No Phones in the Cab of California Trains

SAN FRANCISCO — Metrolink engineers and train operators across the state of California are no longer allowed to use cell phones while in the cab.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted to temporarily prohibit the personal use of “commercial mobile radio services and devices” by on-duty railroad engineers, brakemen, conductors or rail transit vehicle operators. Personal communications “that take place when the train or transit vehicle is stopped and with the approval of the appropriate management personnel” is allowed, however.

The CPUC determined that this action was needed due to a June 14, 2008, MUNI accident that may have resulted from the inappropriate personal use of a cell phone while operating the train, as well as the recent Metrolink accident in Chatsworth, Calif., which may have been at least partially caused by the inappropriate personal use of a cell phone by the train’s engineer.

The move comes a week after a fatal Metrolink crash that killed 25 people in injured 135 more. The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the engineer of the Metrolink commuter train that crashed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train sent and received text messages prior to the crash.

“Because of the possible danger to passengers, the general public, and the railroad workers themselves, prohibiting the personal use of cellular devices is necessary and reasonable,” said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. He added that there are no existing federal or state laws, rules or regulations prohibiting such inappropriate use of cellular devices.

The CPUC’s Consumer Protection and Safety Division will prepare a proceeding to determine whether this ban on cellular devices, or other measures, should be adopted on a permanent basis.

In 2003, the NTSB recommended the Federal Railroad Administration limit the use of cell phones and other personal wireless devices by railroad operators while on duty.

The ruling was handed down following a May 28, 2002, derailment in which the engineer of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) coal train was distracted by a cell phone call when he was supposed to be stopping his train and caused a head-on collision with a BNSF intermodal train. The engineer of the intermodal train was killed in the collision. Damages to the trains and track exceeded $8 million.

“Safety is the primary responsibility of any vehicle operator and this responsibility demands the full and undivided attention of the person at the controls,” then Chairman Ellen Engleman said at the time. “Issuing these recommendations is not enough — implementation is the key.”

— News Wire