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

January 21, 2010 | 11:03 am
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