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January 22, 2010

NTSB blames texting in fatal Calif. train crash

It comes as no surprise given the Nattional Transportation Safety Board's earlier statements on the case, but the agency made it official Thursday that the cause of the September 2008 train commuter crash that killed 25 people in Chatsworth, Calif., was "the engineer's prohibited use of a wireless device while he was operating the train.

The engineer was among those killed in the crash. which also injured more than 100 people.

Since that crash many transit agencies, including the Maryland Transit Administration, have toughened their policies on texting and cell phone calls.

The NTSB's synopsis of its full report on the crash tells the detail in succinct if depressing form. A copy of the agency's press release follows below.

 

 

 

 

 Los Angeles Times photo

 

NTSB DETERMINES ENGINEER'S FAILURE TO OBSERVE AND RESPOND TO
RED SIGNAL CAUSED 2008 CHATSWORTH ACCIDENT; RECORDERS IN
CABS RECOMMENDED

************************************************************

Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board
determined today that the 2008 rail accident in Chatsworth,
California, involving a Metrolink commuter train and a Union
Pacific freight train, was caused by the Metrolink
engineer's prohibited use of a wireless device while he was
operating the train.  The engineer failed to respond
appropriately to a red signal at Control Point Topanga
because he was engaged in text messaging at the time, the
NTSB said.
 
The September 12, 2008 head-on collision resulted in 25
fatalities and more than 100 injuries.  As a result of its
findings, the NTSB recommended that the Federal government
require audio and image recorders in the cabs of all
locomotives and in cab car operating compartments.

According to records from the wireless provider, on the day
of the accident, while on duty, both the Metrolink engineer
and the Union Pacific conductor used wireless devices to
send and receive text messages.  The engineer also made non-
business related voice calls while on duty.  "For the
transportation industry, this accident demonstrates that we
must find a way to wrap our arms around the pervasive
problem of transportation operators using wireless devices
while on the job, whether that job is driving a bus, flying
an airplane, or operating a train," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.
P. Hersman said.

Although Metrolink prohibits its engineers from using
wireless devices while operating a train, the privacy
afforded by the locomotive cab, once the train leaves a
station, makes it difficult for violations of operating
rules to be discovered through ordinary management
supervision or efficiency testing, the NTSB noted.  On
previous occasions, the Metrolink engineer also had allowed
unauthorized persons to join him in the locomotive cab and
even operate the train.

The NTSB also cited the lack of a positive train control
system (PTC) as a contributing factor in the accident.  A
positive train control system would have stopped the
Metrolink train short of the red signal, thus preventing the
accident.  "This accident shows us once again that the
safety redundancy of PTC is needed now," Hersman said.  "It
can and will save lives even when operators ignore safety
rules or simply make mistakes."

With the completion of this accident investigation, the NTSB
made two recommendations to the Federal Railroad
Administration:
      
1.    Require the installation, in all controlling locomotive
cabs and cab car operating compartments, of crash- and
fire-protected inward- and outward-facing audio and
image recorders capable of providing recordings to
verify that train crew actions are in accordance with
rules and procedures that are essential to safety as
well as train operating conditions. The devices should
have a minimum 12-hour continuous recording capability
with recordings that are easily accessible for review,
with appropriate limitations on public release, for the
investigation of accidents or for use by management in
carrying out efficiency testing and system-wide
performance monitoring programs.

2.    Require that railroads regularly review and use in-cab
audio and image recordings (with appropriate limitations
on public release), in conjunction with other
performance data, to verify that train crew actions are
in accordance with rules and procedures that are
essential to safety.

A summary of the findings of the Board's report is available
on the NTSB's website at:
http://ntsb.gov/Publictn/2010/RAR1001.htm.  The Board's full
report will be available on the website in several weeks.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 AM |
        
About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
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