Forget Driving While Texting, Now There's Train Conducting While Texting…

from the im-nt-pying-attntn dept

As you probably heard, Friday afternoon there was a tragic train crash in California, killing a bunch of people. There were some rumors going around over the weekend, and now the press is picking up on a report that the engineer of the Metrolink train that missed a signal leading to the crash may have been text-messaging with someone moments before the accident. It’s the type of story that the press loves, though there’s not that much evidence other than the claims of the kid on the other end of the text messages. Just as politicians are now pushing through “driving-while-texting” bans, you have to imagine that this will also help push along those initiatives. But, once again, the same issue comes through. The problem isn’t text messaging: it’s people in control over big, powerful machines (cars or trains) not paying attention the way they’re supposed to be paying attention.

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Comments on “Forget Driving While Texting, Now There's Train Conducting While Texting…”

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mobiGeek says:

Re: Re:

But it is ALREADY illegal to not pay attention while driving. Having a law banning this ONE THING will not preclude people from doing other stupid things (shaving, eating/drinking, reading (yes, novels & newspapers on the highway…I’ve seen it), portable DVDs, talking to passengers/watching the kids in the backseat, etc…)

So the point is, banning cell phones or texting or whatever is pointless as it going after one symptom when the root cause is not being addressed (though in this case, the root cause is already addressed but apparently isn’t being enforced, which makes this new law even MORE pointless and redundant).

Tony (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“But it is ALREADY illegal to not pay attention while driving. Having a law banning this ONE THING will not preclude people from doing other stupid things”

Apparently, people are too stupid to realize that these things constitute “distracted driving”, so we need laws for every conceivable thing they could do.

We should all feel safer in CA now that you have to be hands-free if you use a cell phone while driving. The commuters who work on their laptops on the freeway aren’t any danger at all.

Legistators like to MAKE laws. Who cares about enforcing existing ones? They can’t push for that – then it will seem like they’re not doing anything. No, they have to pass more laws so people think they’re actually doing something.

Lucretious (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ll throw in with this. I don’t think anyone is blaming “text messaging” in and of itself,but its something that shouldn’t be done while in control of a multi-ton vehicle.

To be fair though, I don’t think it would’ve made a whole lot of difference given that there shouldn’t have been two different trains on the track at that particular moment.

cloksin says:

Re: Re: Re:

Having two trains on a track is normal operating procedures, that’s what signals and sidings are for. The dispatchers tell one of the trains to sit and wait at the siding while the other train goes by, and it normally happens without incident. Its not like a city street where there is room for two way traffic, with your logic trains could only go in one direction and when they got to the end of the line they would be stuck, with no way to return to their starting point.
“Switch operator got the message in time, said there’s a north bound livin’ on the same damn line, open up the switch I’m gonna put him in the hole, cause the monkey’s got the locomotive under control” Monkey and the Engineer(traditional folk song)

Jennie says:

I really think the conductor had a heart attack, because he first blasted through an intermediary signal, actually knocking it aside, as the local news is claiming and then ignored the red warning light that should have caused him to divert to a secondary track so that the freight train could pass first.

The man was an experienced train conductor with at least 12 years of experience. I don’t believe that he would have been so easily distracted by a text message, although obviously, this is a horrible thing to do while one is operating a commuter train. However, while he may be at fault for the accident, I do believe he must have had a heart attack.

Jennie says:

text of la times article

The train passed four signals between De Soto Avenue and Nashville Street that, if working correctly, would have flashed yellow or red to warn the engineer to slow and stop.

The engineer, stationed at the front of the train, and conductor, stationed at the back, customarily call each other to repeat signals seen by the engineer, Higgins said. Officials have listened to recordings and found no indication that the engineer and conductor exchanged information on the last two signals, one of which should have been flashing yellow and the other red. The investigators were unsure whether “dead zones” might have interfered with such communication.

Higgins also disclosed that the Metrolink train “blew through” a switch controlling a junction with a railroad siding closest to the accident site. A data recorder said the Metrolink train was traveling at 42 mph when it passed the switch.

NTSB officials have interviewed a Metrolink dispatcher based in Pomona who said he had set up the signals and the switch so that the Union Pacific freighter and the Metrolink train could pass without incident. But Higgins disputed a Metrolink assertion that the dispatcher had tried to contact the train about a potential collision course, a message that allegedly arrived too late.

“By the time the dispatcher realized there was something wrong, the accident had already occurred,” Higgins said. She added that the conductor, who was seriously injured, called the dispatcher to notify him of the accident. The conductor had not been interviewed by her agency, she added.

A Metrolink spokesman earlier Sunday gave a different account, saying that a Metrolink dispatcher had been alerted to the potential crash by a computer signal and tried to warn the engineer that he was about to collide with a freight train. The spokesman said the dispatcher reached the conductor after the crash had occurred.

Metrolink officials said they expected regular service on the Los Angeles-Ventura County line to resume in time for evening rush hour today and made plans to ferry passengers by bus between Ventura County and Chatsworth until then.

Regular riders on the route said the Metrolink train heading toward Simi Valley often stopped at the junction to wait for a Union Pacific freight train headed toward downtown Los Angeles to switch to the siding.

There are four signals leading up to the crash site: at De Soto Avenue, where the siding begins; at Lassen Street; at the platform at the Chatsworth station; and near Nashville Street, where the siding converges with the main line again.

If they were functioning properly, the early signals would have been yellow or red and the final one, red.

Higgins said investigators are awaiting toxicology reports on the engineer, which should be available in two to three weeks.

NH says:

why is this such an issue

Not being able to use your mobile whilst driving seems to be somewhat of an issue in the states, why so? We have had a ban here for 18 months or so. While there is not a noticable reduction in accidents, it is something that is hard to quantify because there were no stats keps on the cause of the accident and the ultimate cause is often careless or wreckless driving. Some drivers ignore it while bored drivers always find something to distract them (such as the lorry driver watching a dvd at 3 am sending 30 tonnes of lorry into another car at 60 odd mph). But people who say there is none needed miss the point. Prosecuting for careless (or whichever) driving is hard, sometimes subjective and requires a lot of evidence. outlawing the devices responsible for this driving gives a specific thing to prosecute for thus making prosecution of people who endanger everyones lives easier which is a good thing

An Old Man says:


The problem isn’t drinking, texting or any of a hundred other activities, it is accepting blame for your actions. For years, from the White House down denial is the way of life. I have a sickness, I was bored, I don’t exactly remember what happened and all the “It isn’t my fault” alibis. If we take the blame for our actions, you might think about it the next time and learn something to make the world a better place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Accidents happen . . .

In the UNited States particularly we do not accept that accidents happen (if we did, the TORT industry would collapse over night). There is always something used as the cause (it not like people just lose focus now and again). In most recent train accidents I can think of Marijuana is usualy balmed. Not that it had anything to do with the accidents (they are almost exclusively actually caused by a combination of mechanicl failure and overworked staff – but thats complicated and doesnt make for good news bites), but marijuana stays in your system a really long time so the engineers can usually get busted for it after an accident. Since this accident is being blamed on text messaging, I can only assume this engineer tested clean for marijuana.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Accidents happen . . .

I can reasonably see “mechanical failure” as causing a “true accident”. But the vast majority of “accidents” are caused not by mechanical failure nor even misjudgements (I thought I could beat the traffic), but by carelessness, recklessness, negligence (including many mechanical failure “accidents”) or blatant disregard of common sense and the law (e.g. DUI).

To say that marijuana does not impede one’s judgement is to either not understand weed or not understand judgement. Someone who understands (and respects) both will not mix them.

Jake says:

I smell BS here. Ever heard of the dead man’s handle? If the driver lets go of the throttle lever for any reason, the engine cuts out and the brakes kick in, so texting is marginal for practicality unless you’re left-handed. There’s also at least one loud, annoying beeper that goes off every thirty seconds or so to remind him to keep his mind on the job, and there are multiple amber signals with an accompanying audible alarm from the control panel before the red anyway. Go get MS Train Simulator from the bargain bin at Gamestation or wherever if you don’t believe me.

Richard Ahlquist (profile) says:

Maybe its true, maybe it isnt

Regardless the whole thing could have been averted if there was two sets of tracks or computer oversight of the track switching needs versuses depenging on a human.

As for texting while driving heavy equipment, if they can use a cell phone jumping from tower to tower to calculate traffic flow then they can use the same method to disable all but voice communications on a cell phone when traveling over 35mph.

John (profile) says:

Legislators and laws

Like poster #21 said- passing more laws gives the legislators something to do. After all, all the good laws like murder and robbery have already been passed.

First, we’ll see all the “do not [blank] while driving” laws passed, then the “do not [blank] while conducting a train”, then the “do not [blank] while walking”, and maybe “do not [blank] while riding a bicycle”.

Could all these “problems” be solved with a single law that said “do not drive while distracted”? Sure, but that’s just ONE law and more laws passed by a legislator makes it look like he’s working harder.

Rekrul says:

I was under the impression that modern trains were closely monitored by computers that constantly report their position and speed to the dispatcher, especially in situations like this where two trains share the same track. When the dispatcher saw that the train wasn’t slowing down, he should have declared an emergency. Trains aren’t like cars, you can’t just hit the brake and expect it to stop in ten feet or so.

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