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U.S. to subpoena engineer phone records

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Investigators will subpoena cell-phone records of the commuter train engineer in Friday's fatal collision with a freight train near Los Angeles, officials said.

A member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday investigators have been told the engineer, Robert Sanchez, had been exchanging text messages with friends just before the head-on crash that killed 25 people and injured another 135, 40 of them critically, The New York Times reported.

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Kitty Higgins said the NTSB will subpoena Sanchez's records and question the men who told KCBS-TV they exchanged text messages with Sanchez prior to the crash.

Metrolink officials have blamed Sanchez for the afternoon rush-hour crash with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth but NTSB officials cautioned against reaching conclusions before their investigation is completed.

"The whole thing is now in the hands of the NTSB," Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told the Los Angeles Times.

"We are finishing our on-scene investigation," NTSB investigator Richard Downs said.

Metrolink officials said Saturday it appeared the engineer failed to heed a signal along the track before the head-on collision occurred. The Times said Sunday a dispatcher tried to warn the Metrolink engineer his train was about to collide with the freight train.

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Regular Metrolink riders said the commuter train often stops to allow a Union Pacific freight train to proceed on its route to downtown Los Angeles but the Metrolink train Friday did not do that -- and tripped an alarm at the Metrolink dispatch center.

A Metrolink dispatcher contacted the conductor, a Metrolink spokesman said, but it was too late to prevent the collision. Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said officials were still investigating what triggered the alarm.

Frank Wilner of the United Transportation Union, which doesn't represent Metrolink workers, called it "terribly premature" to blame Sanchez, who died in the crash, for missing a warning signal.

"The signals might not have been working" properly, Wilner said. "We don't know if there was glare or if he succumbed to a heart attack or a stroke."

Crews began Sunday to remove damaged train equipment and restore about 1,000 feet of track to service. Tyrell estimated that would take about 18 hours, the Time said.

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