NTSB Official: Documents Have ‘No Smoking Guns’ Involving Deadly Amtrak Crash in Philadelphia

WASHINGTON (The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS) -

The engineer operating Amtrak Train 188 when it sped off the tracks in Philadelphia remembered little about the incident, he told investigators three days after the May 12 crash.

“Unfortunately, the last memory I have on the way back is approaching and passing the platforms in North Philadelphia,” the engineer, Brandon Bostian, told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board days after a wreck that killed eight and injured more than 200. “I remember turning on the bell, and the next thing that I remember is when I came to my senses I was standing up in the locomotive cab after the accident.”

The interview was released Monday as part of a trove of documents made public for the first time. The train had been going 106 mph as it approached a curve where the limit was 50 mph.

“I got my cellphone out of my bag. I turned it on,” Bostian said. “When it came on, while it was powering up, I think I got off the engine.”

He said he dialed 911, “and at the time I did not know” my location.

At a nearby hospital, he said, he was told he had a concussion.

Federal investigators released the documents from their preliminary investigation Monday, providing deep details on the crash, including transcripts of two interviews with the engineer.

“He was extremely cooperative,” an NTSB official said during a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon.

However, the reams of information, more than 2,000 pages in all, do not come with conclusions about what went wrong, or why the train was going nearly twice the speed limit of an approaching curve before it derailed.

The documents, the safety board official said, “provide backup documentations on facts already released. There may be some new facts included in these but nothing that’s really earth shattering or smoking guns.”

The release marks a transition for the NTSB from fact finding to analysis and working to reach conclusions about the cause of the crash and any new safety recommendations. Those are expected this spring.

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart has told Congress there were no problems with the track, brakes, or locomotive. An NTSB officials reiterated that finding Monday.

Bostian’s lawyer has said the engineer does not remember the crash and NTSB officials have said they determined he was not using his cellphone for calls, texting or data.

Bostian has not spoken publicly since the incident.

The docket includes information on his phone, event recorders from the train locomotive, details on signals and train control, information on rail car safety gleaned from crash data and 3D scans of the damaged rail cars and reports on the role human performance played in the crash.

Releasing the information is the safety board’s most significant public action on the crash since June.

The NTSB board will later vote to accept both the probable cause of the crash and any safety recommendations.

For months, fellow engineers and some in Congress have speculated that Bostian simply lost track of where he was and accelerated, thinking he was already beyond the curve.

Amtrak does not use the kind of GPS systems — common now in cellphone apps and cars — that can show users where they are. So engineers instead memorize their routes, speed limits and other rules, with help from signals in the locomotive cab and on the side of the track.

Among the information included in the documents are Amtrak’s safety measures on the dangerous curve. An automatic braking system had been installed on the southbound side of the tracks — but not on the northbound side, where the crash occurred.

Amtrak officials have said the speed limit on the northbound side was low enough that trains should not have been going fast enough to derail. They did not expect that an engineer might accelerate beyond the speed limit on approach.