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The representation of general distributions or measured data by phase-type distributions is an important and non-trivial task in analytical modeling. Although a large number of different methods for fitting parameters of phase-type distributions to data traces exist, many approaches lack efficiency and numerical stability. In this paper, a novel approach is presented that fits a restricted class of phase-type distributions, namely mixtures of Erlang distributions, to trace data. For the parameter fitting an algorithm of the expectation maximization type is developed. The paper shows that these choices result in a very efficient and numerically stable approach which yields phase-type approximations for a wide range of data traces that are as good or better than approximations computed with other less efficient and less stable fitting methods. To illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed fitting algorithm, we present comparative results for our approach and two other methods using six benchmark traces and two real traffic traces.