Investigators probing last week's Los Angeles train crash, which saw a Metrolink commuter train crash headlong into a Union Pacific freight locomotive, killing 25 and injuring 135, are probing the possibility that the commuter train driver may have been "distracted by text messaging moments before the crash".
The Metrolink train went through four warning lights as it approached the freight train, and the two vehicles finally impacted "just beyond a stretch of the main rail line where the commuter train usually stops to wait for the freight train to pass it on a side rail", as Reuters puts it.
Local TV station KCBS has reported that "a teenage train enthusiast claimed to have received a cell phone text message from the commuter train engineer [driver] about a minute before the collision". The message came from a sender identified as "Rob Sanchez Metro". The Metrolink driver, Robert Martin Sanchez, 46, died in the crash.
National Transportation Safety Board operatives have spoken to two teenage boys and their families regarding the incident, and are "seeking to obtain cell phone records of the teenager and the engineer".
Kitty Higgins of the NTSB told Reuters: "They're two young teenage boys who love trains, apparently rode the train and knew the engineer. And there's some issue about whether they were texting with him, and that's what we're trying to track down."
While Metrolink on Saturday put the blame firmly with Sanchez "because he failed to stop at a red light", the NTSB has called this conclusion "premature". While computer records have shown that the four lights in question were working and that the last was indeed on red, the NTSB was yesterday physically examining them to "determine if they were functioning properly".
The NTSB is also looking into communications between the engineer and conductor, who generally travels at the rear of the train. The two "normally call each other by radio to confirm signals the engineer sees", but "recordings of their transmissions gave no indication that the two exchanged information about the last two signals passed before the wreck".
Investigators had "had not ruled out a radio communication disruption of some kind", Higgins said, but since the conductor was seriously injured in the crash, he has yet to be interviewed.
The NTSB will "also look into the possibility that the engineer may suddenly have been stricken ill, or that a glare from the sun may have obscured his view of the signals". ®