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NTSB chairwoman faults engineer's 'egregious' text messaging in Chatsworth crash

Live webcast: Today's NTSB hearing in Washington, D.C.

The contracted Metrolink engineer who was text messaging immediately before running a red light in the 2008 Chatsworth disaster had been counseled about the issue but still "engaged in a pattern of behavior that was unsafe on a regular basis," the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board said today.

"This wasn’t a one-off situation. This person didn't make a mistake. ... He was almost text messaging more when he was on duty" than off duty, said Chairwoman Deborah Hersman, citing records from the days leading up to the crash that showed engineer Robert M. Sanchez sent and received dozens of texts during periods he was scheduled to operate trains.

"It was just so egregious," Hersman said at a Washington meeting on the probable cause of the crash.

Board members cited indications that Sanchez, an employee of Metrolink contractor Connex Railroad, had become distracted before the collision, including his apparent failure to call out signals before and after the Chatsworth station.    

Board members are debating a recommendation to have passenger rail services install audio and video recording of engineers in locomotive cabs. Metrolink recently installed video cameras in control cabs, but a leading rail employee union has challenged the action in court.

-- Rich Connell

Comments () | Archives (10)

The engineer obviously didn't learn his lesson and was totally obsessed with his little gadget in spite of his responsibility, and in spite of warnings from his superiors. The only resolution is to ban access to prevent text messaging from mass transportation such as trains, buses and trolleys and should include all vehicles, period. Once this irresponsible and sorry excuse for a man loses his job, and hopefully spends some time behind bars, he'll have all the time in the world to text message...once he gets out.

This person should be removed for her incompetence. How easy it is to blame the dead man – who was a mere working man – and not mention the responsible parties who allowed such action to continue, while doing nothing. How easy to deflect blame from the contracting practices that have taken away career opportunities for the working man and turned them into what are temporary positions, for all practical purposes. The man worked 15 hour shifts and slept for 4 1/2 hours a day, so that useless middle managers at contracting agencies could reap huge bonuses.

This person is just a flack for her corporate masters – that is the new definition of a government agency head. Shame on her for blaming a dead man, and allowing nothing serious to be addressed.

The engineer was "counseled" not to text message anymore? Why wasn't he fired? We're not talking about a minor infraction here; we're talking about endangering hundreds of people, and the destruction of extremely expensive trains...paid for, I presume, out of taxpayer dollars. Why was he given a slap on the wrist?

With all due respect, I do believe that if the use of cameras and other recording devices is restricted in any way, the leading rail employee union should be sued for damages in any accident as they are putting their needs ahead of the lives of innocent citizens.

Why is there no mention made of the fact that the Senator Feinstein wrongly blamed the horrific deaths on Sanchez work schedule? Why is the false testimony of Metrolink Chairman Ron Roberts, given to the US Senate that “It’s about our nation’s lack of investment in passenger rail as a whole.” Why is the truth about who 46 year old Sanchez was texting obsessively being hidden? Could it be that the fact that Sanchez, a homosexual, was texting young boys? If he was a Pastor or a Catholic Priest would the Times hide this truth?

@lwps: I agree with some of what you say, but your anger at Ms. Hersman seems misdirected. She's merely reporting the findings. The one who should have been fired is either the engineer's boss, who only "counseled" him and didn't discipline or fire him, or the engineer himself. You make him out to be a poor innocent man--but certainly as an adult he should have had at least the intelligence to know that what he was doing was very very dangerous, not just to himself, but to hundreds of others.

Based on what the NTSB chairwoman said, the engineer had a history of unsafe conduct...simple as that. You simply DO NOT TEXT WHILE WORKING, let alone operating any sort of vehicle! The fact that he was counseled for his improper behavior should raise a red flag to his superiors. Policies definitely need to be changed with the contractors and Metrolink. I agree with doctor, if audio/video surveillance is necessary, so be it. If the unions don't like it, then hold them responsible (criminal and civil consequences) for an accident caused by one of their members.

lwps: Why can't we hold the engineer accountable? He wasn't focusing on his job and unfortunately, lost his life as a result. As much as we blame the systemic failures of Metrolink and the contractors, the engineer was the root cause of the accident.

Are you frigging kidding?

All trains and buses are supposed to have communications devices. There is no good reason for a driver to have a personal cell phone while driving. If there is a family emergency, a call can be made to the co. and the bus or train operator can be notified. One local bus company has suggested banning drivers from taking their cell phones with them when they drive the buses - requiring them to lock them up in their lockers. Seems pretty reasonable to me - what did everyone do before cell phones? How did they stay in touch with family members and friends before?
And one more personal thought - how awful that the driver lost his life because of his own carelessness - and how incredibly awful for his family. They have no one to blame but him. But unfortunately, in their grief, I'm sure they're trying hard to find someone, anyone but him to blame.

It's simple. Ban cell phone possession by train engineers while on the job. When they start work, they leave the cell phone in their car, and tell everyone in their family that if some emergency happens they contact the train through proper channels rather than causing a tragedy other families have to be notified of. This seems like a no-brainer to me. Leave the phone in your car at work, or lose your job. The same thing should be done with people who text while they drive. If you get caught texting while you drive you get a license suspension. If you have an accident while texting you get your license revoked. If you hurt someone because you were texting you go to jail. Just like a drunk driver. Why does this seem so difficult for the authorities to grasp?


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