Did “Railfans” Contribute to L.A. Train Disaster?

Hardcore train enthusiasts, known as “railfans,” may have figured into the horrific Metrolink train crash that killed 25 in Los Angeles a week ago today.

Engineer Richard Sanchez was apparently text messaging either at the time of the crash, or just before; the National Transportation Safety Board is examining his messages to see when they were sent and received.

Reports the Wall Street Journal:

A day after the crash, a teenage boy told local television station KCBS that he had exchanged text messages with Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez about a minute before the crash. The boy said he knew Mr. Sanchez, who died in the crash, through their mutual love of trains.

The Journal examines the railfan culture, where train lovers court friendly engineers to tip them off as to when they’ll arrive, to honk their horns, and to sometimes let the fans tour the train’s interior. Reporter Tamara Audi says the fanhood is so obsessive that some even record the “Shave and a haircut, two bits” melody blown by friendly engineers on the horn, and trade the recordings like Grateful Dead fans with a particularly hot “Franklin’s Tower” tape from Winterland in ’72.

(Such overzealous types are sometimes called “foamers” by scoffing engineers and conductors.)

Railfans, severely limited in their illicit touring of train stations post Sept. 11, are concerned the recent crash will further curtail their hobby.

“This is crushing,” wrote Fred Frailey on an online train-fan message board when he heard about the alleged text-messaging. “We’ve all done it with our engineer friends — that or simply call their cellphones. My heart goes out to those kids….Don’t blame this on yourselves, guys. I resolve to turn over a new leaf. We all should.”

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2 Responses to Did “Railfans” Contribute to L.A. Train Disaster?

  1. jersey jim says:

    fwiw – the GD never played Franklin’s Tower in ’72. It probably wasn’t written yet. They actually broke out Franklin’s at Winterland, on 6/17/75.

    1: Crazy Fingers, BIODTL, Deal, Big River, Peggy-O, Me & My Uncle, Help> Slipknot> Franklin’s
    2: Blues For Allah> Drums> Stronger Than Dirt> Blues For Allah, Sugar Magnolia E: U. S. Blues*

    but fwiw – they did play CASEY JONES on 6 occassions at Winterland in 1972, and Big Railroad Blues, twice.

    – sorry, couldn’t resist.


  2. This must be devastating news for the families of the passengers

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