When I start thinking I have seen it all when it comes to revelations in lawsuits, something new always seems to pop up. As you know, we have written in prior issues on the crash of a commuter train last year in California that killed 25 people. We have learned that the train’s Engineer actually planned to let a teenage railroad fan operate the locomotive on the night of the collision. Federal investigators have released the transcript of text messages sent and received by engineer Robert Sanchez. In addition to the deaths, the crash also injured at least 130 people.
Investigators have laid out in a preliminary report the days and minutes leading up to the crash between the Metrolink train and a Union Pacific freight train that ended up on the same shared track and crashed head-on at 40 mph. Investigators have described a rash of safety violations, including a stop light that was ignored, cell phone use and text messaging. These were all actions that could have caused the collision. While the NTSB’s investigation is expected to continue for several months, investigators have said Sanchez sent and received 43 text messages and made four phone calls while on duty that day, including one that he sent 22 seconds before the collision. The large number of text messages was not uncommon for the engineer in the days leading up to the crash, according to investigators. As you may recall from prior reports, the engineer was killed in the collision.
According to the investigators, there was no sign of mechanical error involving the Metrolink train that was carrying 220 passengers. Investigator Wayne Workman told the NTSB’s Board of Inquiry: “All the evidence is consistent with the Metrolink engineer failing to stop at a red signal.” Investigators also found that the conductor of the Union Pacific train received and sent numerous text messages while on duty. In fact, it appears he was texting just minutes before the crash. While the conductor tested positive for marijuana, he was not driving the train at the time of the crash. In the investigation, the NTSB panel focused on cell phone use by train crew members; the operation of trackside signals designed to prevent collisions; and oversight and compliance with safety procedures during the crash.
There have been a number of lawsuits filed that allege Connex knew about the engineer’s cell phone use, but did nothing about it. It appears Connex had a policy against use of cell phones, but apparently the rules weren’t being consistently followed. When that policy went into effect in September 2006, officials stopped and boarded trains to check their employees’ cell phone use. Interestingly, in one instance, Sanchez’s cell phone was said to have rung while he was being interviewed.
Source: Associated Press
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