Investigators focus on text messaging as cause of train crash

Other News Materials 15 September 2008 23:48 (UTC +04:00)

Investigators Monday continued their investigation into the worst train crash in southern California history, focusing on whether the driver of the passenger train was sending text messages when he allegedly ran a red light just prior to the collision.

The probe also focused on whether the red light signal was functioning properly.

At least 25 people died in the Friday afternoon crash that left another 138 injured.

Officials on Saturday blamed the driver of the passenger train for running though a red light and ploughing around a bend, head on into an oncoming freight train. But they later backed away from that assertion, saying it was too early in the investigation to assign blame.

Nevertheless the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed on Sunday that the engineer, who was killed in the crash, had failed to stop at the final red signal.

The engineer's use of a cellphone came to light after two 14-year-old train enthusiasts told local TV station CBS2-TV that they received a text message from the engineer shortly before the crash.

"We are going to be obtaining records from their cell phones and from the cell phones of the deceased engineer and will use our subpoena authority or whatever other legal authority we need and to begin to determine exactly what happened and what if any role that might have played in this accident," said NTSB board member Kitty Higgins.

The horrific accident occurred at 4:23 pm Friday, when a freight train slammed into a packed commuter train on a stretch of single track near Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. The Metrolink commuter train was packed on a Friday afternoon with an estimated 350 to 400 passengers as it entered the sharp bend where the collision occurred.

Rescuers said that victims were piled up inside three mangled passenger cars. Working overnight, teams used hydraulic jacks to keep the passenger cars from falling over and deployed other specialized rescue equipment to gently tear apart the metal.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa rode with commuters on the Chatsworth line Monday, in a bid to bolster commuter confidence in the safety of the train system, dpa reported.

"I want to dispel any fears about taking the train," he said. "Safety has to be our No. 1 concern. Taking the train is still the safest option for commuters."