Crash investigators probing the deadly Amtrak crash involving the derailment of Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 in Philadelphia May 12 have found no problems with the train or the condition of the tracks and are looking for clues with the train’s engineer.
The train was traveling from Washington D.C. to New York with 243 people aboard, including five crew members, when it accelerated to more than twice the speed limit ahead of a sharp curve and careened off the tracks. The crash killed eight people and injured more than 200, some of them critically.
The train engine was an electric AC564 “Cities Sprinter” locomotive designed in Germany and Austria. Siemens built the train and delivered it to Amtrak just last year. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) authorities found no evidence of mechanical problems in it, nor did they find anything wrong with the signals they have so far tested.
The NTSB’s investigation and testing of the trains and infrastructure remains ongoing, but several reports indicate authorities are looking for the cause of the crash with the engineer, Brandon Bostian, 32, of Queens, N.Y.
Mr. Bostian, who began his career with Amtrak as a conductor about a decade ago, says he “has absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events” leading up to the crash, his lawyer told the New York Times. The lawyer also said that Mr. Bostian wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time, and that his cell phone had been turned off, as regulations require to prevent distracted driving.
Lead NTSB investigator Robert Sumwalt said that the agency is looking into what Mr. Bostian had been doing in the 72 hours before the crash and that his cell phone records would be subpoenaed. Investigators said that Mr. Bostian had used his phone the day of the crash for calls and texts but whether he may have used it while driving the train isn’t clear.
The NTSB analysis found that the train accelerated from 70 to more than 106 mph in less than a minute before entering the curve. Mr. Bostian slammed on the brakes and the train slowed slightly, but not enough to prevent it from toppling off the tracks.
The crash has also raised questions about Amtrak’s lack of positive train control (PTC), a sensor-driven signal system that will automatically regulate speed to prevent derailments. Experts say that a PTC would have slowed Amtrak 188 down to a safe speed, especially important when it was traveling a stretch of track where decades ago one of the deadliest train crashes in history occurred.
According to the New York Times, “Congress has mandated that railroads install such a system along passenger lines and heavily traveled freight routes by December, but the system is complex and expensive to install and many railroad companies have lobbied to push back the deadline.”
Mr. Bostian is reportedly an advocate of PTCs on trains and has taken to social media in the past to voice his concerns about the absence of safety devices on Amtrak.
“At any point over the previous EIGHTY years the railroad could have voluntarily implemented some form of this technology,” Bostian wrote in a 2012 facebook post, the New York Times reported.
Mr. Bostian has agreed to be interviewed by the NTSB. Investigators will issue periodic reports on the crash, but the final, full report could take up to a year to complete.