In the first regulatory response to the accident, the head of California's rail safety agency proposed an emergency ban on the use of personal cellular devices by those operating trains in the state. Although some rail lines may have policies prohibiting the private use of wireless devices by train personnel, "they're widely ignored," said Michael R. Peevey, president of the state Public Utilities Commission.
"Our order would make it the law, and we'll go after violators," he said.
Utilities commission spokeswoman Susan Carothers said Peevey's proposal, to be voted on Thursday, was a "precautionary measure" and not a signal that cellphone use by the engineer contributed to the tragedy. "We've not made any conclusion regarding the cause," she said.
Peevey also called on the Federal Railroad Administration to adopt automated train control systems that some experts say could have prevented the head-on collision. Automated train-stopping technology and more complex systems that take over operational control of trains in dangerous situations are needed, Peevey said.
"These safety measures are especially important in Southern California, which has a very high number of commuter trains that share tracks with freight trains," he said.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer suggested that Congress review legislation requiring installation of automated control systems by Dec. 31, 2018.
"In light of this tragic accident, I believe Congress should move up this timetable and consider additional rail safety measures," she wrote in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee.
In the first legal action instigated by the crash, the parents of a 19-year-old Cal State Northridge sophomore filed a claim Monday alleging that the rail system was negligent in having failed to use available safety systems that might have prevented the collision.
Aida Magdaleno, the daughter of farmworkers who was the first in her family to go to college and aspired to become a social worker, was among the 25 killed.
No damages were specified in the claim, which under California law must precede the filing of a lawsuit.
The deadliest train crash in Metrolink's short history promises also to be the costliest and is likely to test the legality of a $200-million cap Congress imposed on a railroad's liability for any single accident. Lawyers who represent victims alleging negligence by railroads warn that the number of victims from Friday's crash heralds a level of potential damage claims that could easily exhaust that figure, if typical awards for wrongful death and catastrophic injury are granted. In that event, a constitutional challenge to the cap would be likely.
Times staff writers Rich Connell, Mitchell Landsberg, Sam Quinones and Carol Williams contributed to this