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Engineer sent text 22 seconds before fatal train crash

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  • NEW: AP: Senate passes bill to give billions to Amtrak
  • Crash killed 25 people, including train engineer Robert Sanchez -- the texter
  • NTSB: Text sent at 4:22:01 p.m. on September 12; crash happened at 4:22:23
  • After crash, California Public Utilities Commission banned texting on the job
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A Metrolink engineer driving a commuter train sent a text message about 22 seconds before the train collided with a Union Pacific freight train last month, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

The crash killed 25 people, including the engineer, Robert Sanchez, during Friday rush hour in Chatsworth, a northwest Los Angeles suburb.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday night cleared a rail safety reform bill that would give Amtrak $13 billion dollars over five years, its passage partly pushed by the September 12 collision, according to The Associated Press.

The bill, which passed by a 74-24 vote, will go before President Bush who has not said if he'll sign it. The Federal Railroad Administration told the AP that safety technology mandated by the legislation would have prevented the crash.

The bill adds 200 new safety inspectors and requires technology be installed by 2015 that can slow a train that runs a red light or jumps off track.

The NTSB earlier determined the brakes on the Metrolink train were not applied before the collision and that stop signals at the scene were working properly, said Kitty Higgins, an NTSB member assigned to the investigation.

The bill also limits the hours a week rail crews can work, and prohibits shifts longer than 12 hours, the AP said.

On Wednesday, the NTSB said that Sanchez, 46, sent a text message at 4:22:01 p.m. on September 12, the NTSB said, citing information on his cell phone activity that the safety board subpoenaed from his service provider.

The preliminary estimate of the time for the head-on collision is 4:22:23 p.m., NTSB said, citing Union Pacific train's onboard recorders.

Sanchez last received a text message at 4:21:03 p.m., NTSB said.

From 3:03 p.m. -- when Sanchez returned from a break that had lasted several hours -- until the collision, the engineer received seven text message and sent five, the NTSB said. The safety board did not identify with whom Sanchez was exchanging text messages.

From 6:44 a.m. until 8:53 a.m. that day, when Sanchez was also in charge of a train, he received 21 text messages and sent two dozen, the NTSB said.

"The Safety Board's Recorder Laboratory is continuing to correlate times recorded for use of the Metrolink engineer's cell phone, train recorder data, and signal system data to a common time base," NTSB said.

After the incident, California Public Utilities Commission banned train operators from texting on the job.

In pushing for the ban, Commission President Michael Peevey said cell phone use by engineers "may have been a factor" in train accidents this year in San Francisco and Sacramento, California.

He did not elaborate on details of those incidents. Thursday's order is temporary until the state commission decides whether to make it permanent.

Metrolink prohibits cell phone use by engineers on the job, but Peevey emphasized there is no federal or California regulation barring cell phone use by engineers while trains are moving.

Twenty-four bodies were found at the scene after the collision. A 25th victim, a man in his 50s, died at a hospital. More than 130 people were injured.

The agency said it also has been in contact with two teenagers who told a local television station they were exchanging text messages with the engineer just before the crash.

Higgins said investigators interviewed a Metrolink train conductor who had worked with Sanchez since April.

The conductor "had no issues of his time working with the engineer and on how the engineer operated the train," she said.

All About Train TravelLos AngelesU.S. National Transportation Safety Board

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