Feds look into texting before deadly train crash

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Federal officials investigating a commuter rail collision that killed 25 people said they want to review cell phone records to determine if an engineer blamed for running a stop signal before the crash may have been text messaging at the time.

With no answer on the cause of Friday’s crash, a smaller number of commuters than usual returned to the rails Monday morning.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa boarded one of the morning’s earliest trains.

“I want to dispel any fears about taking the train,” Villaraigosa said. “Safety has to be our number one concern, and while accidents can and do happen, taking the train is still one of the safest and fastest options for commuters.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed on Sunday the engineer, who was killed in the crash, had failed to stop at the final red signal.

NTSB experts are planning to review the cell phone records of two 14-year-old boys and the engineer after the teens told CBS2-TV they received a text message from the engineer shortly before the crash.

The Los Angeles station said the teen was among a group of youths who befriended the engineer and asked him questions about his work.

NTSB board member Kitty Higgins said investigators did not find a cell phone belonging to the engineer in the wreckage but would request his cell phone records, as well as those of the boys.

“We are going to be obtaining records from their cell phones and from the cell phones of the deceased engineer and will use our subpoena authority or whatever other legal authority we need and to begin to determine exactly what happened and what if any role that might have played in this accident,” she said Sunday.

The commuter train carrying 220 people rolled past stop signals Friday and barreled head-on into a Union Pacific train in Chatsworth. The accident, the nation’s deadliest rail disaster in 15 years, left train cars so mangled some bodies had to be removed in pieces. The crash injured 138 people.

Regular riders said the number of commuters Monday was far short of a normal day.

On Monday, the Metrolink spokeswoman who announced Saturday the engineer’s mistake caused the crash resigned. She said the railroad’s board called her announcement “premature,” even though NTSB officials later backed it up.

Metrolink did not return phone messages on the resignation.

NTSB investigators said Sunday the train failed to stop at the final red signal, which forced the train onto a track at 42 mph where the Union Pacific freight was traveling in the opposite direction, Higgins said at a news conference.

Higgins said she believed the crash could have been prevented with technology that stops a train on the track when a signal is disobeyed. The technology was not in place where the collision occurred.