After fatal train wrecks, Obama administration to crack down on cell phone use

The Obama administration is poised to issue a new regulation that will crack down on how much railroad employees use their cell phones while on the job.

Following several fatal train wrecks where engineers were talking on their cell phones or texting, the Department of Transportation this week sent the White House Office of Management and Budget a proposed rule on the issue. The rule "would restrict railroad operating employees from improperly using cellular telephones and other distracting electronic and electrical devices."

The proposal is expected to be released publicly in the coming weeks.

In a 2008 Department of Transportation notice, the government said that although most railroads have rules in place that restrict the use of electronic devices, "these company rules and procedures have not proven effective in preventing serious train accidents..."

The discussion of additional government intervention on distracted railroad driving intensified after a Sept. 12, 2008 head on-collision between a Southern California commuter train and a freight train. Twenty five people died in the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board found that the cell phone of the locomotive engineer was being used to send a text message within 30 seconds of the crash.

There have been several other train collisions that could have been caused by a railroad employee using a cell phone, including three in Texas between 2000 and 2006.

Following the 2008 accident, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on Congress to pass railroad safety legislation.

In the 111th Congress, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation that provides incentives for states to ban drivers 18 years old and under from using their cell phones.