The engineer of the Amtrak train careened off the rails near Philadelphia last May was likely distracted by radio traffic about an emergency situation on a train in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) system, federal safety regulators said today.
Seconds before the crash, which killed eight people and injured about 200, Brandon Bostian, 32 -- a “qualified, experienced and apparently alert engineer,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board – accelerated to 106 mph, more than twice the speed limit for that stretch of track.
He had just passed a SEPTA train with a shattered windshield and was “very concerned” about its engineer, who had requested medical attention, according a transcript of his interview with the NTSB.
With his attention diverted, Bostian, operating Train No. 188, likely “lost track of where he was” and didn’t realize the reduced speed limit to accommodate a curve, the NTSB said today.
Bostian, who suffered a severe concussion, later told investigators his memory of the crash is foggy, though he does recall “holding on to the controls tightly and feeling like, OK, well, this is it, I’m going over.” (According to NTSB experts, amnesia after a severe blow to the head is not uncommon.)
“He went, in a matter of seconds, from distraction to disaster,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said today.
As Sumwalt noted, that segment of track just north of Philadelphia at the time lacked positive train control, a technology that could have automatically stopped the train and prevented the derailment, according to the NTSB.
Positive train control, which was in development before the incident, has since been switched on throughout Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
"Amtrak has taken full responsibility for and deeply regrets the tragic derailment of Northeast Regional Train 188. Our hearts go out to the families who suffered a loss, the passengers and employees who were injured and to everyone onboard the train," the company said in a statement, adding that they would "quickly implement" the NTSB's recommendations after a review.