Federal investigators have found evidence that an engineer involved in a fatal Los Angeles-area commuter train crash was texting on his cell phone close to the time of the accident.
On Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an update to its report on the Sept. 12 crash of a Metrolink train, which killed 25 people, including the engineer, and injured 135. It said the agency had discovered a text message was sent from the engineer's cell phone just seconds before the estimated time of the crash.
The NTSB said on Sept. 18 it had confirmed that the engineer, who has been identified as Robert Sanchez, sent and received text messages while on duty the day of the crash. But it didn't yet know whether those messages happened near the time of the crash, possibly distracting Sanchez. The Metrolink train collided with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, north of Los Angeles.
An investigation found that the last text message received by Sanchez's phone was at 4:21:03 p.m. and the last one sent was at 4:22:01 p.m. The preliminary estimate for the time of the accident is 4:22:23 p.m., based on information from the onboard recorders on the Union Pacific train. The agency is still trying to determine the precise timing and correlation of the events.
"The Safety Board'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," the NTSB said Wednesday. The NTSB obtained the information from Sanchez's mobile operator, under subpoena.
In addition, the NTSB found that Sanchez had sent five text messages and received seven during that shift, which had begun at 3:03 p.m., and sent 24 and received 21 during another shift early that morning.
Reports of a possible link between Sanchez's text messaging and the accident caused an uproar over the dangers of using mobile phones while operating trains. Citing the Metrolink accident and a June crash between San Francisco Municipal Railway trains, the California Public Utilities Commission on Sept. 18 temporarily banned the use of mobile phones by several types of personnel on moving trains. The agency said it would start a proceeding to determine whether the ban should be made permanent.