- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

LOS ANGELES | Federal officials investigating a commuter rail collision that killed 26 people said they want to review cell-phone records to determine whether 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 normal 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,” the mayor 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 Sunday that 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 that they received a text message from the engineer shortly before the crash.

The Los Angeles station said the teens were 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 that 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.

Genise Silvers said she was on the train that crashed Friday but got off at the stop before the deadly crash. She said her daughter didn’t want her to take the train to work Monday, but she felt she must.

“I think I’m still a little in shock. I think it’ll be OK. I kind of wanted to come today to be with my friends. When you’ve been through such a thing as this, you want to commune with your friends,” Ms. Silvers said at the Chatsworth Metrolink station.

Also Monday, the Metrolink spokeswoman who announced Saturday that 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.

AP writers Thomas Watkins, Michael Blood, Daisy Nguyen, Christina Hoag, Greg Risling, Justin Pritchard, James Beltran, John Rogers, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer and Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report.

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