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Calif. bans train drivers from using cell phones

U.S. authorities investigating why a commuter train engineer ran through a red signal and into a freight train have confirmed that he was text messaging while working on the day of the crash.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities investigating why a commuter train engineer ran through a red signal and into an oncoming freight train have confirmed that he was text-messaging sometime before the fatal crash.

The revelation came just before California regulators issued a temporary order Thursday banning train operators from using cell phones while on duty. The state Public Utilities Commission unanimously passed an emergency order to ban the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices while operating a train.

Last Friday, a Metrolink commuter train ran head-on into a Union Pacific freight train in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth, killing 25 people and injuring more than 130 others.

Federal authorities confirmed that on the day of the crash, the Metrolink train engineer was text-messaging on his cell phone while on duty. Authorities say he ran a red light and slammed into the freight train.

Southern California's Metrolink train service prohibits rail workers from using cell phones on the job, but there is no current federal or state regulation regarding the use of cell phones by railroad employees.

No brakes applied
The National Transportation Safety Board requested the cell phone records of engineer Robert Sanchez after two teenage train buffs said they had exchanged text messages with him shortly before the collision. Sanchez died in the wreck.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the NTSB did not say how many messages were found in the records or if any texting occurred just before the collision.

Messages left with NTSB spokesman Terry Williams were not returned. Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca declined to comment.

The NTSB has determined Sanchez did not apply the brakes before the collision and ran a red light that could have prevented it. The agency said the tracks and signals were working properly and that human error was to blame.

In 2003, the NTSB recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration regulate the use of cell phones after finding that a coal train engineer's phone use contributed to a May 2002 accident in which two freight trains collided head-on in Texas. The coal train engineer was killed and the conductor and engineer of the other train were critically injured.