Texting to death

I must admit, this is something I'll never be able to understand.

Not that I claim perfection, mind you. I have more than my share of problems!

It's just that the whole idea of piloting a vehicle while distracted is so illogical, I feel it should rate as proof of insanity. And for an Engineer to place himself in such a situation is totally beyond the pale!

An N.T.S.B. report was released on the 21st of this month, and I found it to be even more depressing and frustrating than usual.

According to the Board, Engineer Robert M. Sanchez, while operating Metrolink commuter train 111 through Chatsworth, California, on Friday the 12th of September, 2008, caused a crash which took the lives of 25 people - 24 innocent passengers along with himself - and seriously injured 28 more. 73 others sustained minor injuries, and millions of dollars of equipment and infrastructure was damaged or destroyed.

After accepting responsibility for the safe operation of a locomotive (you know, those real big pieces of machinery that power the trains which transport things like human beings and volatile chemicals?), Sanchez decided to use his cell phone. In the cab. While on duty.

He chose to send and receive a variety of text messages - 43 of them, in fact - along with four personal calls. In the cab. While on duty.

The final text message was completed 22 seconds before impact. TWENTY TWO SECONDS!

It gets worse. The Conductor of UP train LOF65-12, the Leesdale Local (with which Metrolink 111 collided), was also using his cell phone (in the cab, while on duty) AND "had likely used marijuana within 3 to 11 hours of the accident" (according to the report)...although the N.T.S.B. judged these were not militating factors in this specific situation.

The Dispatcher had set up a meet between the two trains. The signal at C.P. Topanga was red. Sanchez failed to properly respond, since his text messaging activities during this time "compromised his ability to observe and appropriately respond to the stop signal" (per the N.T.S.B.). In fact, Sanchez was apparently so oblivious to the situation that he never even reacted to it!

I'm not a big fan of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. In my fantasy world, I've always hoped we'd see someone at the D.O.T.'s helm who actually knew something about trains, rather than primarily existing as a political appointee.

Still, his initiatives to rein in the use of all electronic devices while operating moving vehicles - including automobiles - has my unqualified support. Certainly, I wish people would do the right thing even without a law in place! But, drivers have been known to change pull-over sweaters, make coleslaw and engage in all sorts of sexual activity while on the freeway, so I refuse to quibble.

The N.T.S.B.'s specific recommendations include the application of Positive Train Control (already on its way) and the use of both outward- AND INWARD-facing cameras to monitor cab activity. Strong opposition to cab cameras has already been forthcoming from the B.L.E.T., and it remains to be seen if such technology would actually improve operational safety.

In the meantime, wouldn't it be nice to think we'd never again bear witness to an incident where someone caused the death of others and brought reproach upon our entire industry simply because he failed to take safety seriously?

Of course, we will have to. Human nature makes it inevitable. Perhaps, though, we'll be spared the scene of carnage which can result from an Engineer who, instead of concentrating upon the proper operation of his locomotive, spends his time communicating with friends over the telephone.

In the cab. While on duty.

P.S. Effective today, it is now illegal for commercial truck and bus drivers to "text" while on the job.



  • James:  I don't recall calling anyone a "basket case."  In fact, I'm quite certain I didn't.  As opinionated as I admit to being, I do try to keep my comments on issues and not on people or personalities, with the exception of Dynamiter, who practically demands insulting replies.   As for engineers and conductors, being neither, I don't have a vote in this one, although I do have opinions.  RuleGmeister never got off into a detailed discussion of plusses and minuses of conductor certification.  I do have some friends in the union, however, and am quite certain that conducter certification will be followed immediately by a Section 6 calling for higher pay for those who are certified.  A case even can be made for it.  More knowledge, etc.  The union always is involved.  If it weren't, why have a union?  As for the conducter simply riding along, I don't think you really believe that. If there is a derailment or other incident, both members of the crew get tested, and in my experience with a few Class 1s, both members get disciplined.  It may be overturned on union-represented appeal, but the carrier most often will start by administering discipline to both.  Sort of a labor relations version of the lawyer's preference for suing the parties with the deepest pockets.

  • Quite right ol' chum,

    I know this guy ..RuleGguy.. he doesn't want to post too much because of the flack it might draw on the job..you see he's still on the job, where I as many might know haven't been asked to return to duty, and at 56 I kinda threw in the towel on ever getting back to railroading(250 attempts and interviewed right to the last face to face, and then get the we changed our minds line).

    But even though I am not gainfully employed in the "industry" I could report on sites like this for those guys still on the job.

    It seems that those hired prior to say 2005, are in favor of licensing and be cross licensed as conductor/engineer, whereas those who were hired after 2005 are looking to keep it the way it is, (toc..to perhaps catch up on their beauty sleep while the engineer runs alone) It also seems that the older heads are willing to accept more of the technical changes coming down the pike and making the conductors position as equal if not more professional than what stands out there today.

    And, at face value it's not about money (as in pay raises..although it would be nice) as much as it is about saving jobs. (ie..one man cab control,etc.)

    And, it seems that this new generation (for lack of a better description) of rails aren't as keen as adopting this job as a lifestyle as opposed to just a job, (and maybe that is because they have been jilted seeing that most if not all since 2005 have been furloughed, or out and out dismissed already do to the economic....should I say it...depression that struck us in 2007 to now.

    So in closing it's six of one, half dozen of the other. Personnally, I'd like to see everyone make more income, increase their own knowledge base, where railroading is concerned, let's keep the comraderie of engineers and conductors alive, because we only have each other to count on out there, and when all else fails we all join together and invoke the Holy Spirit for guidance, for both labor and management.

    With that said I close respectfully yours in railroads and in Christ.


  • I wish they wouldn't refer to it as discipline, call it what it is ..punishment or penalty.

    Isn't a discipline earned like in the different fields of medicine or edducation?

    Just a thought!

  • An interesting pair of posts, James.  I think you've identified a significant issue, although I'm not entirely sure you understand that you did.  Where you make a distinction between employees based on when they were hired on or how much seniority they hold, I think you reflect the changed values of people based on generation.  I have talked with HR executives of Class 1s who whine about not being able to find the kind of workers they need.  That simply means they are trying to force new hires into old molds.  Young people today are not willing to put up with what workers used to consider standard - and that applies to any line of work, not just railroads.  Being on call 24/7, Rule G, bad lineups, etc., are not turn-ons for young people today.  It is up to the railroads to redesign the work so they can attract the people they need.  Some will be smarter than others and will get the best available while others try to figure out how to catch up.  SP, among others, found that people coming out of the military made excellent front-line supervisors.  They were used to a 24/7 environment and crawling around on their bellies and be shouted at by their supervisors.

  • Well LK,

    That's a great idea!

    I'd like to re-allign myself (even at age 56) and am quite capable of crawling around in the dirt, 24/7 has been the norm for most of my adult life, and evryone shouts at me supervisor or not.

    And, maybe just maybe the Carriers' really don't have to change too much of what's been standard.(if it's not broken than why fix it.)

    I'm gonna stand on (whether they're military, or not) that those who wish to pursue this railroad lifestyle need do just that.....pursue the lifestyle....it's great once you get the swing of it...(and with your past experiences LK I'll bet even you agree)

    Another option left to the carriers' is why not hire us older more regimented workers, our work ethics are right in line and most are empty nesters,and/or single,whether due to divorce, never been marrieds, or widowed. Most of which don't have the responsibility of reporting to some other significant other, which leaves more availability to respond to over the road, and away from home terminal assignments.

     Also, the older worker needs less rest (down time) than younger workers, is more apt to be level headed in making on the fly decisions, due to more life experiences, therefore reducing the stress element therefore reducing the screaming supervisor syndrome, because the job is being accomplish more sucessfully, by a more mature employee.

     It's nice that the RR Carriers' want to hire the Military vets,but it should be fair across the board,(military service should not have precedence over non military prospective employees) there are other than military that do seek employment on the railroad, since my demise from the UPRR, I've been active in the scouting movement where we are still helping young men find their way forward and I have been advocating for them to follow a railroading career. As well as within my Knights of Columbus council where we help with helping other younger men find new employment(due to the economic/employment scenerio that we've all been thrust into.

     With all that maybe...just maybe it's not the Carriers' that need to change but those in the HR depts. of these carriers, because of their inability to look out of the box, they are missing a  whole mess of possibilities in who just might be the right candidate for inclusion in perhaps the most gratifying employment lifestyle in the whole world of emploment....Go Railroads...HooRah!