Train Operator Sent 29 Texts on Crash Day

Safety board records show operator sent a text 22 seconds before crash.

ByABC News
October 1, 2008, 3:53 PM

Oct. 1, 2008 — -- A train operator at the helm during a deadly collision in California last month sent 29 text messages while on the job that day -- including one just 22 seconds before the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Wednesday.

Cell phone records examined by the safety board indicate that Metrolink train engineer Robert Sanchez was sending text messages on both his morning and evening shift the day of the accident.

The Sept. 12 crash killed 25 commuters in California and left many other people injured when the train collided head-on with a Union Pacific train. Sanchez was killed in the crash,

The morning of the collision, the operator sent 24 messages and received 21 in just over two hours, records now reveal. Back at work later that day, Sanchez received seven more text messages and sent five more, including one less than 25 seconds before the crash, the NTSB found.

"I am pleased with the progress of this major investigation to date," said acting NTSB chairman Mark V. Rosenker in a Wednesday statement. "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."

In hopes of preventing similar accidents, California passed an emergency temporary order the week after the crash to bar train operators from using cell phones. The NTSB also hopes to implement a "positive train control" system that would monitor trains' locations and speeds and stop them from colliding if engineers miss signals or if other mistakes transpire.

After the September crash, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman told reporters that if Los Angeles' Metrolink and the area's freight railroads had installed such a system, the accident could have been averted.