NTSB: Metrolink Engineer Sent Text Message 22 Seconds Before Fatal Crash

LOS ANGELES – The engineer of a Metrolink commuter train that crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train sent a text message 22 seconds before the wreck, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

On Sept. 12, the day of the crash that killed 25 people and injured 130 more, the Metrolink engineer was on duty twice during the day. First, he was responsible for the operation of a train from 6:44 am until 8:53 a.m., and during that time, the engineer’s cell phone received 21 text messages and sent 24 text messages.

The engineer was off duty until 2 p.m.

Later on Sept. 12, the engineer was responsible for the operation of Metrolink train 111 from 3:03 p.m. until 4:22:23, the time of the crash. During that time, the engineer’s cell phone received seven text messages and sent 5 text messages.

According to the time on the cell phone provider’s records, the last text message received by the engineer’s phone before the accident was at 4:21:03 p.m., and the last text message sent from the engineer’s cell phone was 4:22:01 p.m., according to the NTSB.

The NTSB’s Recorder Laboratory is continuing to correlate times recorded for use of the Metrolink engineer’s cell phone, train recorder data and signal system data to a common time base.

“I am pleased with the progress of this major investigation to date,” Acting NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said. “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.”

Authorities believe the engineer failed to stop at a signal and crashed into the Union Pacific freight train. The NTSB received the cell phone records after subpoenaing the cell phone provider.

In the wake of the crash, 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.

Some officials have said Positive Train Control, which would force a train to stop automatically when signals are ignored by the engineer, might have prevented the fatal crash. The House of Representatives last year passed the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007.

The bill would require trains to be equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), a collision avoidance system. PTC has been at the top of the National Transportation Safety Board’s priority list for nearly two decades.

— Railfanning.org News Wire