Im surprised that this hasn't caused more discussion here.....
The Trainorders site has an, for lack of a better word, interesting, discussion going on, with the various theories going back and forth.
My two cents on it.....
Yes, its possible for the signals to malfunction, 1 time in a million, 1 time in a bilion, 1 time in a Hundred Billion - the chance is still there.
The actions of the crew both the engineer and conductor jive, in my mind, to what would happen if the signal was displaying (or looked to be displaying) a clear.
It happens all the time, you pass other signals, namely an approach, and if you can see the home signal or not, the dispatcher forgot about you, and DING - the signal pops up.
Also, depending on the rule books, some signals do NOT have to be called. In NORAC, the signals that must be called are Stop and Proceed, Restricting, Approach, Medium Approach, Slow Approach (rule 94B - Calling signals on Push Pull trains) Now, railroads can make their own rules that might state that ALL signals must be called. I dunno what is the case out there in Metrolink land.
However, on my RR, if I had an Advance Appraoch, i would NOT have to call it out to my Cond. If i had an Approach, I would. If for instance, If I had an Approach, I called it out, the cond did or didn't respond, but then my next signal popped up to a Clear (at the interlocking) I would have to call the signal to my cond to tell him that it popped up, and we aren't running under the Approach any more. If the signal at Topanga looked to be at a Clear, even after passing the approach, he should have called it out that it upgraded, but he could have forgotten to do so. Yes, its breaking a rule, but with the cond being on the platform, and supposedly seeing the same green signal, the eng not calling it out to the cond wouldn't be the worst thing in the world not to do. (although in this case, It would have answered these questions......)
Now, to simply dismiss the whole incident on text messaging is unfair, IMO and a knee jerk reaction. Maybe because im an engineer like Mr. Sanchez, but I can see a different side of things. Like someone mentioned on TO, the signal, especially a stop signal, is the "elephant in the room" to an engineer - you just CAN'T ignore it - its the instinct of EVERY engineer. You live and die by signals. They are that important. A text message would NOT distract any competitent engineer from a signal that he was approaching. Especially one that was as experienced as Mr. Sanchez was. Unless you are a railroader its hard to explain and understand, but you know the railroad better than the streets you drive. You live, see, breathe, feel and smell the railroad. An engineer KNOWS where he is at, especially a seasoned one. Its not like this was Mr. Sanchezs first run over this territory, where he could have gotten "lost" and not known that was a home signal or interlocking up ahead. Stop Signals are run all the time (unfortunately) but rarely is it like in this sitatuion where the engineer never touched the brakes. Most guys will dump the train or whatever, and slide past it, or have a brain fart, look up and see it, then jam on the brakes, but too late. But very, very, VERY rarely do you have guys who don't know they did something, and don't attempt to stop at all. That should say something - "maybe he didn't know or couldn't tell it was red (or was it red at all)..........."
With regard to the buffs on the platform who supposedly saw the signal, think about it. They are like "expert" witnesses - why? Because they were there for a reason, supposedly, to see the delayed UP train that was involved, which they knew about. They saw a clear and figured "Huh - I guess they are running the Metrolink first" (from a Trainorders post that someone claims to have spoken with or know the guys who were there). They know what the signals mean, and they knew what a green signal meant, and they knew that there was a freight somewhere. This isn't like an 80 year old driving down the road on teh way to the eye doctor claiming they saw a green signal at CP Topanga.
As for finding out what exactly happened? I don't think we will ever really know. Maybe its my cynical side, but how could Metrolink or the FRA or NTSB say that it was a signal failure that caused this wreck? Anyone who rides the rails on a daily basis would be in a panic! It would be a disaster. "Blame it on the engineer" - its the easy and convenient answer. One that Metrolink was VERY quick to come out with, with that distraught spokeswoman. That raised red flags the second I saw her talking.
I have said it before, and Ill say it again - things that "shouldn't" or "can't" happen, happen all the time. Ive seen it with my own eyes out on the RR. "That can't happen!" Guess what it did. I don't care about the brand of style of the signal, or the relay cases, and how things could and should and "do" work. They are all designed and made by humans, which means, that there could be a fault in it.
The above is just my opinions, I dunno any inside info or anything, but from a railroader's point of view, the whole thing is shady, and no matter what the NTSB and FRA and Metrolink come out with as their explaination, in the back of my mind, Ill know what COULD (and maybe did) happen, and when I can and I have control, Ill "operate accordingly" and keep an extra watchful eye out while in my travels. Because certain things COULD happen.
On the RR, "believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see"
John, aka "JTGSHU" passed away on August 26, 2013. We honor his memory and his devotion to railroading at railroad.net.