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Texting Behind Deadly Train Wreck

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LOS ANGELES.–The nation’s deadliest rail disaster in 15
years, left train cars so mangled that some bodies had to be removed in pieces.
The commuter rail collision killed 25 people. Officials are investigating by
reviewing cell phone records to see if an engineer had been text messaging before
the accident. Claims have been made that the text messages caused the crash
because they caused the engineer to run a stop signal. The commuter train
carrying 220 people rolled past stop signals Friday, Sept. 12 and barreled
head-on into a Union Pacific train in Chatsworth. 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed
that the engineer, who was killed in the crash, had failed to stop at the red
signal. NTSB experts plan on reviewing the cell phone records of two
14-year-old boys and the engineer. The teens told CBS2-TV they received a text
message from the engineer shortly before the crash. The boys were among a group
that befriended the engineer and asked him questions about his work.

NTSB board member Kitty Higgins stated investigators never
found a cell phone that belonged to the engineer among the wreckage but would
still request his cell phone records, as well as the cell phone records of the
boys. “We are going to be obtaining records from their cell phones and from the
cell phones of the deceased engineer and will use our subpoena authority or
whatever other legal authority we need and to begin to determine exactly what
happened and what if any role that might have played in this accident,” she
said.

At a news conference Higgins said that because of the
failure to stop at the final red signal, the train was forced onto a track at
42 mph where the Union Pacific freight was traveling in the opposite direction.
She stated she believes the collision could have been prevented with technology
that stops a train on the track when a signal is disobeyed. The technology was
not in place where the crash occurred. “I believe this technology could have
prevented the accident. If he ran the signal the train would have been stopped.
I’ve seen it tested. It makes a difference,” she said.

Audio recordings from the commuter train indicate a period
of silence as it passed the final two signals prior to the wreck, a time when
the engineer and the conductor should have been performing verbal safety
checks. Higgins reported that the train could have entered a dead zone where
the recording was interrupted.

Metrolink said earlier Sunday, Sept. 14 that a dispatcher
tried to warn the engineer of the commuter train that he was about to collide
with a freight but the call came too late. The dispatcher reached the conductor
in the rear of the train, but by then it had already crashed into the oncoming
Union Pacific train. 

NTSB contradicted Metrolink’s report. Higgins said that the
dispatcher noticed something was wrong, but before he could contact the train,
the conductor, who survived, called in to report the wreck. 

Mayor Antonio Villaragiosa boarded one of the morning’s
earliest trains. “I want to dispel any fears about taking the train,” the mayor
stated. “Safety has to be our number one concern, and while accidents can and
do happen, taking the train is still one of the safest and fastest options for
commuters.”

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The Official News Source of the University of New Haven
Texting Behind Deadly Train Wreck