Trainwreck Texting Showcases Metrolink Safety Flaws

By September 18, 2008

A passenger train headed north in San Fernando valley passed through track-side warning signals on Friday, crashing into a freight train. 26 fatalities have been recorded thus far, including the engineer, who was supposedly text messaging up to minutes before the collision. This has been claimed by two fourteen-year-old boys, train enthusiasts who knew Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez, 47. Yesterday the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the track signals were working properly, leaving few possibilities about the fault of the collision and the circumstances that made it possible. Usually the conductor and engineer communicate regarding track signals, but no such communication has been discovered. No word yet about possible radio disruption. Discussion also includes sudden illness or sun glare.

Not surprisingly, the main subject of debate is the still unsubstantiated suspicion that the engineer was using a cell phone while working, a practice banned by Metrolink. Sanchez's phone was not recovered in the wreck, and cell phone records from him or from the boys that he may have been text-messaging to have not been released.

SMS-related accidents are rising at a troubling rate, despite legislation. The lack of common sense is frustrating when confined to individual auto accidents and the like. When it goes beyond DWT (Driving While Texting), to the level where other people's lives are at stake, the practice is even more disturbing.

All of these possibilities rely on the fallibility of human drivers, and so could be avoided. The development of Positive Train Control, a system to override manual error, is in place but lacking investment. The system would create safety redundancy if put into practice. What level of tragedy is necessary for this system to be implemented? According to Rep. James Oberstar of the House transportation committee, "increasing safety on America’s railroads is simply too important to ignore any longer."

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