Train Collision
Hector Mata  /  AP
The NTSB is holding two days of hearings in Washington, starting Tuesday, into the Sept. 12 head-on crash between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles.
updated 3/2/2009 6:52:26 PM ET 2009-03-02T23:52:26

Federal investigators are about to end their silence on what a Metrolink commuter train engineer was texting about before his train collided with a freight last year in Los Angeles, killing 25 people and injuring at least 130 others.

On Tuesday, they plan to release a transcript of the engineer's messages, dozens of other documents and interviews with witnesses conducted during their investigation of the nation's deadliest rail crash in 15 years.

The disclosures on a National Transportation Safety Board Web site will coincide with the start of a two-day NTSB hearing in Washington, D.C., on the Sept. 12 crash in suburban Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

Ban on cell phone use
The crash prompted a federal ban on cell phone use by rail workers and led Congress to pass a law requiring "positive train control" technology that can stop a train if it's headed for a collision.

Investigators determined that Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez sent and received 57 text messages while on duty that day, including one that he sent 22 seconds before his train slammed head-on into the locomotive of a Union Pacific freight train.

The preliminary investigation found that the commuter train failed to stop at a red light just before the crash.

Sanchez was among the dead. His Metrolink train was carrying 220 passengers.

Survivors, relatives of victims and their lawyers said they'll monitor the hearing closely in hopes of learning more about the crash.

"It's not going to change anything for me. To know what happened might give us some peace, I guess," said Jeff Buckley of Simi Valley, whose father, Alan, was killed in the collision.

Focus on cell phone use
The NTSB panel conducting the hearing will focus on cell phone use by train crew members; the operation of trackside signals designed to prevent collisions; and oversight and compliance with safety procedures.

The conductor of the Metrolink train, Robert Heldenbrand, contends the signal light was actually green when the train left a station about a mile from the crash site.

Heldenbrand also told investigators he had warned a supervisor months before the deadly crash about Sanchez's on-duty cell phone use, and had followed up with the same supervisor two days before the collision.

His contention is the basis of dozens of negligence lawsuits that allege Connex Railroad LLC, the contractor that provides engineers who run Metrolink trains, knew about the cell phone use but did nothing about it.

Connex is a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation, a private operator of bus, rail, shuttle and other transportation services throughout North America.

"How far up the Veolia/Connex chain had the complaints gone before the accident? We hope to find out about that, and a number of other things," said attorney Ed Pfiester, who represents 24 people suing the companies.

Connex and Metrolink said they have strict policies prohibiting use of cell phones by on-duty employees.

During the Washington hearing, the board is scheduled to hear from representatives of Metrolink, Union Pacific, the Federal Railroad Administration, the California Public Utilities Commission and several rail workers unions.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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