NTSB, Amtrak Heads Testify Before Congress On Philadelphia Derailment

Jun 2, 2015
Originally published on June 2, 2015 6:35 pm
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The head of Amtrak made this promise to members of Congress today - the safety technology called Positive Train control will be put into operation. This follows last month's derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people. And lawmakers still want to know what caused that crash. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Amtrak's CEO Joseph Boardman said Amtrak takes full responsibility for the crash and its consequences, vowing the technology known as PTC will be working as quickly as possible. PTC is supposed to automatically slow down a train that's moving too fast, and it was already active on parts of the Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington, but it was not in operation on the stretch of track near Philadelphia, where the northbound Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 derailed on May 12.

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JOSEPH BOARDMAN: I still believe that the single greatest contribution that my generation of railroaders can make to this industry is to implement PTC as rapidly as possible. And I promise you that by the end of this year, this system, which will dramatically enhance safety, will be complete and operational on the NEC.

SUMMERS: Congress has mandated that PTC be working on all railroads by December of this year. Amtrak is expected to meet that deadline, but most other railroads are not, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Lawmakers today debated the fault for the delay. Some Democrats said that underfunding was partly to blame for Amtrak's problems. The day after the Philadelphia derailment, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut one-fifth of Amtrak's $1.4 billion budget. But Republicans have dismissed Democrats' attempts to link the Amtrak crash to the agency's budget. Here's New York's Lee Zeldin.

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LEE ZELDIN: I think it's pretty shameful and disgusting that not even 24 hours go by and we have an entire party here in Congress that was blaming a potential future funding cut on an accident that happened yesterday.

SUMMERS: The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on last month's fatal crash ahead of the House hearing. The report showed that investigators still don't know whether an Amtrak engineer was using his cell phone before the train crashed. Lawmakers were frustrated by the lack of progress on the investigation several weeks after the deadly crash. Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock couldn't understand why investigators still don't know whether the engineer's cell phone was in use between the last station stop and the derailment.

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BARBARA COMSTOCK: Three weeks after, why can't we take those 11 minutes and have a timeline? I just don't understand what the holdup is.

SUMMERS: Christopher Hart, National Transportation Safety Board chairman, said his agency has had access to the cell phone, but figuring out the timing of texts and phone calls has proven to be more complicated than expected. Juana Summers, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.