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NTSB declares official causes of Chatsworth crash: text messaging and lack of automatic braking system

January 21, 2010 | 12:19 pm

The official probable causes of the Chatsworth Metrolink disaster were  the failure of the commuter rail engineer to comply with a red signal because he was engaged in prohibited cellphone text messaging, coupled with the lack of a train collision-avoidance system, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded today.

The Metrolink engineer "compromised his ability to observe and appropriately respond" to the red signal, according to formal findings adopted by the board.

The findings also say eyewitness accounts that the light was green were not reliable.

The board’s hearing ended shortly before noon Pacific time.

According the board, a practice heavily used in the rail industry -- field testing to enforce compliance with rules -- was "inadequate" to detect and deter improper use of cellphones and other wireless devices in train control cabs.  

Installation of video cameras focused on train operators would help deter cellphone use by crews, board members agreed.

"We know this behavior is widespread and it's getting more widespread," chairwoman Deborah Hersman said.

"Something has to be done across the nation to discourage this type of behavior," added board member Robert L. Sumwalt.

-- Robert J. Lopez and Rich Connell 

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