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Railways should install recorders in train cabs to avoid distractions, accidents

By Associated Press
Friday, January 22, 2010; A18

Federal investigators said Thursday that railway companies should have to install and monitor audio and video recorders in locomotive cabs to help discourage the kind of distractions blamed in a head-on collision that killed 25 people in suburban Los Angeles in 2008.

Safety experts said the engineer of a commuter train was sending and receiving text messages on his cellphone, and he ran a red signal light before slamming into a Union Pacific freight train.

A contributing factor in the Sept. 12, 2008, crash in Chatsworth, Calif., was the absence of technology that would have allowed monitors to stop the train once it went through the red signal, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The engineer, Robert Sanchez, died in the crash, which injured more than 100 people. The last of his text messages went out 22 seconds before impact. Investigators said Sanchez sent and received 43 text messages and made four phone calls while on duty that day.

Board members noted that Sanchez had been warned twice before about using his cellphone while on duty. They also said the freight conductor had sent and received text messages while operating his train, but investigators did not find this was a distraction that contributed to the accident.

"This is not just one individual doing this. In the other locomotive, another company's employee was doing the same thing. It's becoming more widespread and we have to nip this in the bud now," said Deborah Hersman, the board's chairwoman, after Thursday's hearing on the crash.

"I don't think railroading is unique. We're seeing these distractions explode across the board in all modes of transportation, and we have to address it," she said.

As a result of the accident, regulators banned cellphone use by train operators, and Congress passed legislation requiring rail companies to install computer systems that can stop trains speeding or in danger of a wreck. The systems, called positive train control, must be in place by the end of 2015.

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