The engineer controlling an Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state in December, killing three people, told investigators he didn’t realize he was coming up on a curve until it was too late.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday released the first accounts of interviews it did with the 55-year-old engineer and a conductor, 48, who was also in the locomotive at the time.
Both men said they felt rested at the start of their shifts, and neither said he was distracted before the incident. The conductor said he was looking at paperwork when he heard the engineer “say or mumble something” and “then looked up and sensed that the train was becoming ‘airborne,'” the NTSB said in an emailed release.
The train was traveling 78 miles an hour when it hit a curve near DuPont, Washington, where the speed limit was 30 miles an hour. That prompted a chain reaction that sent the massive railcars plummeting onto an interstate highway. NTSB investigators have said that an automated braking system known as Positive Train Control, which is required on railroads by the end of this year but wasn’t yet working on that section of track, would have prevented the accident.
The engineer, who was severely injured and couldn’t be interviewed immediately, said he had planned to begin braking one mile before the curve. But he didn’t see a mile marker ahead of the curve or a sign warning in advance of the speed-limit drop, the NTSB said. He also said he mistook a signal marking the curve for a different one located beyond the curve.
The NTSB said earlier that a video recording inside the locomotive didn’t show any indication that either man had been using electronic devices.