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NTSB: Distracted operator led to California train crash

January 28, 2010

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A train engineer's failure to observe and respond to a warning signal because he was distracted by his cell phone was the probable cause of a 2008 Metrolink crash in California, the National Transportation Safety Board said Jan. 21.

On Sept. 12, 2008, a Metrolink commuter train collided with a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, CA. The crash killed 25 people and injured more than 100 others. A final investigation report shows the engineer was text messaging on his cell phone prior to the crash.

NTSB said the lack of a positive train control system was another contributing factor in the incident. The Federal Railroad Administration on Jan. 15 published a final rule that would require PTC technology to be installed on all major rail lines, as well as commuter and inter-city passenger rail routes.

NTSB made two recommendations to FRA:

  • Install crash- and fire-resistant audio and image recorders in all controlling locomotive cabs and operating compartments.
  • Require railroads to regularly review and use in-cab audio and image recordings to verify train crews are acting in accordance with rules and procedures.


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