NTSB finds Metrolink engineer sent text messages before crash

Adolfo Flores

As the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board continues, the agency is narrowing the blame of the Metrolink accident to human error.

NTSB received Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez’s phone call and text messaging records, following reports that he was text messaging teenage train enthusiasts moments before the accident. Sanchez, who died in the accident, was in fact text messaging that day while on duty, reports found.

Among their findings they found that he failed to apply the brakes before the collision, which took the lives of 25 passengers last Friday. The information comes from the cab car recorder aboard the train that federal investigators recovered from the crash site.

‘The recorder showed no evidence of breaking right before impact,’ said Kitty Higgins, NTSB board member and spokesperson.

The board will continue to conduct investigations using this information to determine the exact times of those messages in relation to the engineer’s operation of his train.

Investigation’s found that all of the signal systems were working, but the manufacturer plans to conduct a final test to be ‘a thousand percent sure,’ said Higgins.

NTSB also found that mechanical problems didn’t contribute to the accident, which left an additional 135 people injured.

NTSB questioned the conductor about Sanchez specifically about his schedule.

The conductor said that Sanchez, who took a two-hour nap during his break, was working a split schedule and added that the engineer was in the middle of working an 11-and-a-half hour day. Working a split schedule was common for Sanchez.

‘In general split schedules are something that we look at and it can be a reason to be concerned about fatigue,’ Higgins said.

Apart from that, the conductor stated that he had no previous concerns about the way the engineer operated the train.

Sanchez failed to adhere to warning signals indicating an upcoming red light and to the red light itself before colliding head on with a Union Pacific freight train. During this time the conductor and the engineer didn’t communicate, according to NTSB investigations, an act that was out of the norm as the engineer must report to the conductor.

‘My understanding is that it’s protocol for the engineer to call out the signals and for the conductor to confirm the signals,’ Higgins said. ‘It’s really the engineer’s job to see the signals, not the conductor’s.’

Sanchez was going 42 m.p.h. before the accident, which was in a 40 m.p.h. area limit, Higgins said.

Higgins also said that had the Positive Train Control safety technology been in place it would have brought the train to a halt before the red signals because he was speeding, had he not adhered to the oral warnings.

‘It’s unfortunate that in an accident like this where you have this incredible loss of life that it could’ve been prevented by this technology,’ Higgins said.