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METROLINK CRASH KILLS 25: As the death toll in the Sep.12 commuter-train crash near Los Angeles climbed to at least 25, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that a Metrolink spokesperson is blaming the commuter-train engineer for the crash. More than 220 passengers were aboard the commuter train, and scores are injured, many critically. The Metrolink spokesperson says the Metrolink engineer, allegedly ignored a red light, causing the head-on crash with a Union Pacific freight train. It is rare for railroads to speculate on crash-causes ahead of thorough investigation by federal agencies. The National Transportation Safety Board will determine the official cause of the accident, and that typically takes months following thorough investigation to determine if signals were operating properly, what other train orders were in effect, what the actions of crew may have been. Typically, event recorders are first examined. [United Transportation Union, 9-13-08, from Los Angeles Times report]

OFFICIALS INVESTIGATING METROLINK CRASH: Federal officials investigating Friday's fatal Metrolink train crash focused Sunday on whether a signal that should have alerted the engineer to stop the train was working properly, and whether it went unheeded. National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins said a computer reading indicated the last signal before the collision site was displaying a red light. But she said investigators wanted to make sure it wasn't a false reading. Higgins criticized Metrolink for saying Saturday that an engineer had been at fault for failing to heed the red signal, causing the crash with a Union Pacific freight train that so far has claimed 25 lives and left 135 injured, 40 critically. "I don't know on what basis Metrolink made that statement. We really work very hard not to jump to conclusions," Higgins said at a Sunday news conference in Woodland Hills. KCBS reported Saturday that several teenage train aficionados said they had received a text message from the engineer shortly before the crash. The NTSB said it was treating the report with caution. A woman who identified herself as the mother of one of the teenagers, but asked that her name not be used to protect her 14-year-old son's privacy, said that he and some of his friends often rode the Metrolink train on Friday afternoons and had become friendly with the engineer. Investigators had spoken to some of them, she said. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 9-15-08, from Los Angeles Times website report]

U.S. TO SUBPOENA METROLINK ENGINEER'S CELL PHONE RECORDS: Investigators will subpoena cell-phone records of the commuter train engineer in Friday's fatal collision with a freight train near Los Angeles, officials told the United Press International. A member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday (Sept. 14) investigators have been told the engineer had been exchanging text messages with friends just before the head-on crash that killed 25 people and injured another 135, The New York Times reported. The NTSB will subpoena the engineer's records and question those who told KCBS-TV they exchanged text messages with Sanchez prior to the crash. A Metrolink official has blamed the engineer for the afternoon rush-hour crash with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, but NTSB officials cautioned against reaching conclusions before their investigation is completed. [United Transportation Union, 9-15-08, from UPI report]

METROLINK SPOKESWOMAN RESIGNS OVER ACCIDENT STATEMENT: Three days after a commuter train crash killed 25 people, the spokeswoman for rail agency Metrolink resigned after being criticized for public statements she made over the weekend indicating that the agency was responsible for the accident. The move comes hours after Metrolink's board held an emergency meeting, after which it tried to distance itself from spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell's statements. In a statement after the meeting, the board characterized Ms. Tyrrell's early statements concerning the crash as "premature" and agreed to defer to the National Transportation Safety Board, going forward. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 9-15-08, from Wall Street Journal website report]

SIGNALS WERE WORKING OK, OFFICIALS SAY: Three signals that should have warned a Metrolink engineer to stop before hitting a freight train appear to have been working and visible prior to last week's catastrophic collision, federal safety investigators said. "There were no obstructions to viewing any of the signals," National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins told reporters as she summed up the early stages of what promises to be a lengthy investigation into the crash that killed 26 people in Chatsworth Sept. 12. Higgins said the Metrolink train ran through a red signal instead of stopping to allow the southbound Union Pacific freight train to pull onto a siding to allow the commuter train to pass. It then crossed a switch on the main track at 42 mph, so fast that it bent the switch, which had been closed to guide the freight train onto the siding. Higgins also said the safety board had subpoenaed cellphone records from Verizon Wireless to determine whether the engineer of the commuter train had been text messaging in the moments leading up to the head-on collision. In the first regulatory response to the accident, the head of California's rail safety agency proposed an emergency ban on the use of personal cellular devices by those operating trains in the state. [United Transportation Union, 9-15-08, from Los Angeles Times report]

METROLINK ENGINEER DID NOT APPLY BRAKES BEFORE CRASH, N.T.S.B. SAYS: The engineer of a commuter train that slammed into a freight train on Friday, killing 25 people, never applied the brakes even after he bypassed a red signal and closed in on certain disaster, a federal investigator said Sep.16. The engineer on the freight train did slam on his brakes, said Kitty Higgins, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. But just four seconds passed from the time that engineer saw the approaching three-car Metrolink commuter train until the collision. There was, she said, "almost no time to react." The cause of the crash has not been determined, but investigators have said the Metrolink engineer bypassed a red signal as his train traveled at 42 miles per hour and barreled into the freight train, which was going 41 m.p.h. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 9-16-08, from New York Times website report]

METROLINK ENGINEER SAID TO TEXT WHILE ON DUTY: Federal investigators said Sep.17 that records from Metrolink engineer Robert M. Sanchez's cell phone show that he sent and received text messages while on duty last Friday, the day he was involved in a catastrophic collision in Chatsworth, the Times reports. However, investigators have not yet analyzed the records to determine whether Sanchez was using his phone at the time he slammed into an oncoming Union Pacific freight train in an accident that left 25 people dead and 135 others injured. "The Safety Board will correlate those records with other investigative information to determine as precisely as possible the exact times of those messages in relation to the engineer's operation of his train," the National Transportation Safety Board said in a written statement. [United Transportation Union, 9-17-08, from Los Angeles Times report]

HOUSE PASSES RAIL SAFETY BILL: The U.S. House voted to require rail-safety technology that may have prevented a Sept.12 crash in Los Angeles that was the deadliest for a passenger train in 15 years. The voice vote would require more use of so-called positive train control equipment, which automatically applies brakes when engineers miss signals. The gear would be installed on passenger and commuter routes and on some freight lines, based on risk, by 2016. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 9-24-08, from Bloomberg News report]

METROLINK ADDING AN ASSISTANT ENGINEER TO SOME TRAINS: Under new pressure to swiftly increase safety measures, Metrolink will begin adding a second engineer to some of its commuter trains in the first visible reform since a deadly crash in Chatsworth, California. Chief Executive David R. Solow said the backup engineers will come from a pool of employees normally used to replace primary engineers who are on vacation, sick or out on training. Previously, when those employees were not running trains, they performed administrative work or collected fares. There are 10 to 15 relief engineers available each day, Solow said, but the number riding shotgun would change, depending on how many already were filling in for colleagues. "It's just an interim measure until we can find something permanent," he said in an interview. "We're going to use them as much as we can as another set of eyes." [United Transportation Union, 9-27-08, from Lost Angeles Times report]

METROLINK ENGINEER SENT TEXT MESSAGE 22 SECONDS BEFORE THE CRASH, NTSB SAYS: The National Transportation Safety Board said Oct.1 that the Metrolink engineer involved in the Sept.12 train accident in Los Angeles had sent a cell phone text message 22 seconds before his commuter train crashed head-on into a freight train. The crash killed 25, including the engineer. Cell phone records of the engineer show he sent a text message after receiving one about a minute and 20 seconds before the crash, the NTSB said. He sent his last text message at 4:22:01 p.m, said the NTSB. According to the freight train's onboard recorder, the accident occurred at 4:22:23 p.m. [United Transportation Union, 10-1-08]

THREE WITNESSES SAY METROLINK SIGNAL WAS GREEN PRIOR TO CRASH: Three observers who say they were at the Chatsworth Metrolink station before last month's deadly train crash have asserted in interviews that a final, crucial railroad signal was green as the commuter line's engineer headed toward the collision point. The accounts, including one from a station security guard and another from a retiree who says he was interviewed by a federal investigator, contradict a key preliminary finding by the NTSB. The three witnesses were insistent. If the track signal was green, it would raise the possibility that a combination of factors were at work in the deadliest train crash in modern California history. An NTSB spokesman said that he could not comment on the witnesses' accounts. It was not clear whether federal investigators were pursuing or had ruled out the possibility that the light was green as Sanchez approached the fateful section of single, shared track. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 10-4-08, from Los Angeles Times website report]

PANEL NAMED TO STUDY METROLINK SAFETY: In the wake of the devastating Chatsworth train crash last month, Metrolink's board has appointed an 11-member panel of industry experts to take a comprehensive look at the commuter rail's safety and operating procedures, the Los Angeles Times reports. The group, composed of people from industry and academia and a passenger advocate, is supposed to issue a draft report in 60 days. Improvements that can be made more quickly are expected to be forwarded to Metrolink in seven to 10 days. The board also approved a review of Metrolink's emergency preparedness and crisis communications plans. [United Transportation Union, 10-11-08, from Los Angeles Times report]

POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL WOULD HAVE PREVENTED METROLINK ACCIDENT, FORMER NTSB HEAD SAYS: The engineer's use of a cell phone has been widely publicized in connection with the head on collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., in September 2008. Jim Hall, who served as Chairman of the NTSB from 1994 to 2001, expressed concern that focusing too much attention on the cell phone issue may detract from the real lesson to be learned from the Chatsworth collision. Hall believes that positive train control, a system of monitoring and controlling train movements that NTSB identified over three decades ago as the most effective way to avoid train-to-train collisions, could have prevented the Chatsworth accident regardless of other factors. Prior to the Chatsworth collision, the NTSB found that the lack of a positive train control system was a contributing factor in a 2002 Metrolink accident in Placentia, Calif.(1) Positive train control systems were not required by law, but several railroads had taken steps to implement them because of lessons learned in past accidents - not Metrolink. "It is sad and unfortunate that the need for positive train control was so clearly pointed out by the NTSB after Placentia, yet almost six years later Metrolink had made no effort toward implementing a system that would have prevented this collision," said Hall, who issued numerous recommendations to rail authorities and operators calling for the safety technology. Hall added that Metrolink's failure to implement positive train control after Placentia, in the face of clear direction from the NTSB, was "irresponsible," and "was a major factor in the Chatsworth collision." Hall also pointed out that the use of a cell phone by the Metrolink engineer did not violate any law or regulation at the time of the Chatsworth accident. This has changed. He said, "To the extent that cell phone use contributed to the accident, this issue has now been addressed voluntarily by the FRA following the Chatsworth collision." [Former NTSB Chair Jim Hall, 1-20-10]

NTSB RECOMMENDS SURVEILLANCE IN LOCOMOTIVES: The federal government should require surveillance cameras in nearly all locomotives, to allow railroad managers to see if engineers are texting or talking on cellphones, sleeping or admitting unauthorized visitors, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended. The recommendation resulted from the investigation into the crash of a commuter train in Chatsworth, Calif., in 2008 that killed 25 people. The engineer, who was among those killed, was apparently composing a text message when he ran a red signal and the train collided with a freight train. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 1-21-10, from New York Times website report]