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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 2:25 pm

Report: Crew member texting before Ind. derailment

The Associated Press

A federal investigation found a freight train crew member was distracted by text messaging soon before crashing into a stopped train in northwestern Indiana, causing the derailment of more than two dozen locomotives and rail cars.

The January 2012 derailment in a rural area a few miles from Valparaiso prompted the evacuation of more than 50 nearby homes as spilled diesel fuel burned and sent smoke billowing from the wreckage.

The National Transportation Safety Board report said the CSX train that caused the crash was going about 40 mph despite signal warnings of a stopped train ahead of it that limited speeds to 15 mph. The trains collided, sending wreckage onto a parallel line where a third train was also derailed about 20 miles southeast of Gary.

The report blamed the crew for not paying vigilant attention to signals, not complying with speed limits and failing to "avoid distractions from prohibited text messaging."

The train's conductor, who was not named in the report, sent a text message about three minutes before the crash to a person who had made two unanswered calls to his cellphone in the previous two minutes, according to the report released Aug. 28.

CSX officials accept the NTSB's findings, company spokeswoman Carla Groleau said Tuesday.

"Strict compliance with both trackside signals and operating rules is fundamental to safe operations," she said. "CSX has prohibited the use of cellphones by all train crew members while trains are moving or performing service for many years."

Groleau said the railroad has disciplined the crew member, but did not give details.

The crash caused $5 million in damages, the NTSB report said, and temporarily closed the busy freight line into Chicago. The texting conductor and the engineer on that train both suffered minor injuries.

The Federal Rail Administration didn't cite CSX for any violations following its review of the crash, according to the NTSB report.