Chatsworth Engineer Texting Within Seconds of Crash: NTSB

NTSB said today that it has confirmed the engineer of the Metrolink train sent his last text message 22 seconds before an onboard recorder shows the crash occurred.

The National Transportation Safety Board posted an update today on its investigation of the Sept. 12, 2008, collision of a Metrolink commuter train with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif. The update confirms the Metrolink train's engineer, who was killed in the accident, sent his final text message only 22 seconds before the other train's onboard recorder shows the crash took place.

Twenty-four other people died in the crash. NTSB has earlier announced that the engineer did not apply his brakes and traveled through a red signal, both of which were working properly. California enacted a regulation soon after the crash prohibiting texting by train operators, and it has also enacted a law barring texting by vehicle drivers.

NTSB obtained the engineer's cell phone records from the service provider through a subpoena. "Although the precise timing and correlation of these events is still underway at the Safety Board's Recorder Laboratory, preliminary information is being released regarding the approximate cell phone activity during the engineer's duty hours on the day of the accident," the agency said today. "On the day of the accident, the Metrolink engineer was on duty for two periods of time. The engineer was responsible for the operation of a train from 6:44 am until 8:53 am. During this period of time, the engineer's cell phone received 21 text messages and sent 24 text messages. He was then off duty until 2:00 pm. The engineer was responsible for the operation of Metrolink train 111 from 3:03 pm until the time of the accident. During this time period, the engineer's cell phone received 7 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 pm, and the last text message sent from the engineer's cell phone was 4:22:01 pm. A preliminary estimate for the time of the accident, according to the Union Pacific train's onboard recorders, is 4:22:23 pm. 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."

"I am pleased with the progress of this major investigation to date," Acting NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said in the board's update. "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."

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