A commuter train engineer sent a cellphone text message 22 seconds before his commuter train crashed head-on into a freight train in southern California last month, killing 25 people, federal investigators said on Wednesday.
Cellphone records of Robert Sanchez, who was among the dead, show he received a text message 1 minute and 20 seconds before the crash and sent one about a minute later, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a news release.
The finding led Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman to announce an emergency order prohibiting use of personal electronic devices by rail workers operating trains and in other key jobs.
The order must be published in the Federal Register to take effect. Spokesman Rob Kulat said that would happen “soon.” California regulators have already enacted a ban.
Investigators are looking into why Sanchez ran through a red signal before the Metrolink train collided with a Union Pacific train on Sept. 12 on a curve in the San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth. The time of the final text suggests it is unlikely he had become incapacitated for some reason.
The records obtained from Sanchez’s cellphone provider also show that he sent 24 text messages and received 21 over a two-hour period during his morning shift.
During his afternoon shift, he received seven messages and sent five.
Sanchez sent his last text message at 4:22:01pm. The freight train’s on-board recorder show the accident occurred at 4:22:23pm.
Metrolink board member Richard Katz said in an interview that the NTSB told his agency that another engineer on a Metrolink train has been suspended for sending a text message from his cellphone at about the same time as the Sept. 12 collision. That engineer was not identified.
Katz said Metrolink officials don’t know whom the other engineer was texting.
Metrolink’s engineers are supplied by a contractor, Veolia Transportation. A spokeswoman for the company, Erica Swerdlow, declined to comment on Katz’s statements, saying she couldn’t discuss personnel records. But she did say that the company has a strict policy on cellphone use and that anyone who violates it will face discipline.
NTSB investigators continue to correlate times from Sanchez’s cellphone, the train recorders and data from the railroad signal system, officials said.
The cellular records were subpoenaed from his service provider, but his actual phone was not found in the burned wreckage.