September 16, 2008 in Nation/World

Signals were working during rail crash, investigators say

Federal agency subpoenas engineer’s cell phone records
By Robert Lopez and Jennifer Oldham Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

An unidentified train commuter, left, Melinda Moore, center, and Marianne Jones read names of fatalities in the newspaper as they wait at the train station in Chatsworth, Calif.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES – Three signals that should have warned a Metrolink engineer to stop before hitting a freight train appear to have been working prior to last week’s catastrophic collision, federal safety investigators said Monday, as some anxious commuters returned to their usual trains.

“There were no obstructions to viewing any of the signals,” National Transportion Safety Board member Kitty Higgins told reporters as she summed up the early stages of what promises to be a lengthy investigation into the crash that killed 25 people in Chatsworth on Friday.

Higgins said the Metrolink train, after running through a red signal, crossed a switching mechanism on the main track at 42 mph, so fast that it bent the switch. The switch had been closed to guide the southbound Union Pacific freight train from the main track onto the siding.

Higgins said the NTSB had subpoenaed cell phone records from Verizon Wireless to determine whether the engineer of the commuter train had been engaged in a text-message exchange in the moments leading up to the head-on collision with a Union Pacific train.

Metrolink’s chief spokeswoman, Denise Tyrrell, resigned Monday after she was intensely criticized for speaking prematurely when she said the crash was caused by the Metrolink engineer’s mistake. The coroner’s office identified the engineer as Robert Martin Sanchez, 46, of La Crescenta, who was described by neighbors as a man who cherished his privacy but spoke lovingly about trains.

In addition to the 25 dead, there were 135 passengers injured in the crash. Some 24 remained hospitalized Monday, including four in critical condition.

Metrolink trains resumed service between Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and the Chatsworth station, just south of the crash site. Beyond that, Metrolink operated bus service to and from the Moorpark and Simi Valley stations.


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