The operator who was driving a San Francisco Municipal Railway light rail train that collided with another train Saturday injuring 47 people wasn’t following normal procedures, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said today.
The driver had put the train into manual mode before the 2:50 p.m. crash at the West Portal Station. If the train had been on automatic mode when it pulled into the station the crash wouldn’t have happened, said Ted Turpin, the lead investigator for the NTSB, which is spearheading the investigation.
The L-Taraval train was traveling at 20 to 23 mph when the crash happened on the outbound platform of the station.
Investigators said it appears the operator of the L-Taraval train switched from auto to manual while he was still inside the tunnel, and 24 seconds later he struck the K-Ingleside line, Turpin said at a news conference this afternoon.
It’s not Muni procedure to switch to manual at that point. The drivers are supposed to wait until they are in the station, he said.
The L-Taraval train has been inspected and no brake or other mechanical problems were found. Investigators are also looking at the signal system to make sure everything was working that controlled the train. In addition they are reviewing video footage from cameras that were in the station and on the train.
Turpin said they are also looking into cell phone records to see if the operator was talking on his phone or texting when the crash happened.
“We always gather cell phone information,” he said.
The driver, who was drug tested after the crash, started as a bus driver with Muni in 1979. He has been a light rail operator since 2007.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is providing information to the NTSB for its investigation. Other agencies investigating the crash are the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Transit Authority.
SFMTA Director Nathaniel Ford said Muni officials are concerned about the people who were injured. Once the investigation is complete Muni will make any necessary changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again, he said.
“We do not take these situations lightly,” Ford said. “We are in the midst of a very in-depth investigation.”
The on-scene phase of the investigation generally lasts between three to five days, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. The full investigation could take up to a year.
Light rail vehicles resumed service at the West Portal Station about five hours after the crash.
Several people, including the operator of the L-Taraval train, suffered serious injuries. At least 40 others were transported to hospitals with minor-to-moderate injuries, Muni spokesman Judson True said. No deaths were reported.