Amtrak engineer distracted before deadly derailment: NTSB

The engineer of the Amtrak train that derailed near Philadelphia last May was likely distracted by radio traffic about an emergency situation on a nearby regional SEPTA train, federal safety regulators said today.

Seconds before the crash, which killed eight and injured about 200, 32-year-old Brandon Bostian – a “qualified, experienced, and apparently alert engineer,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board – was traveling 106 mph, more than twice the speed limit.

He had just passed a train with a shattered windshield, operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and was “very concerned” about its engineer, who had requested medical attention, according to the NTSB.

With his attention diverted, Bostian, operating train number 188, likely “lost track of where he was” and didn’t realize the speed limit had slowed to accommodate a curve, the NTSB said today.

Bostian, who suffered a severe concussion, later told investigators his memories of the crash is foggy, though he does recall “holding onto the controls tightly and feeling like, OK, well this is it, I’ m going over.” (According got 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, the segment of track just north of Philadelphia at that time lacked positive train control, a technology that could have automatically stopped the train and prevented the derailment, according to the NTSB.

Since the accident, positive train control has been switched on in Amtrak’s northeastern corridor.

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