Why Did Amtrak Train Accelerate Into A Curve Before Derailing?

May 15, 2015
Originally published on May 15, 2015 2:13 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Details of Philadelphia's train crash investigation remind us how much we do not yet know. Investigators do know the train was moving too fast into a curve. Video shows the train accelerating into that curve. It is still not clear why, though. Also this week, many Americans learned of technology that can prevent a train from going too fast. The president of Amtrak now says that safety system was installed in the area where Amtrak train 188 sped off the tracks. It wasn't switched on yet. Testing was still needed to make sure the technology was working. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Just hours after Philadelphia's mayor announced that emergency crews had found the remains of an eighth victim in the train's wreckage, the National Transportation Safety Board's Robert Sumwalt explained what investigators found on what was effectively the train's dash cam.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT SUMWALT: Sixty-five seconds before the end of the recording, the train's speed went above 70 miles per hour.

ROTT: Twenty-two seconds later, it was going above 80.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUMWALT: Sixteen seconds before the end of the recording, the train's speed was going through 100 miles per hour.

ROTT: Sumwalt says that the seven-car passenger train hit 106 miles per hour before its engineer applied the emergency brake. But by then, it was too late. The train barreled off of the tracks, twisting and turning, injuring more than 200 of its passengers before it came to a final rest. Investigators have spent the last couple of days poring over the accident site and looking through the train's records. Sumwalt says the train had recently been inspected, and there were no anomalies. There were no apparent problems with the tracks. So the question then is why the train sped up to more than twice the speed limit for that section of track in the seconds before derailment. Sumwalt says that question will not be answered by the dash cam.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUMWALT: The track image recorder, it just shows the speed alone. So it doesn't tell how the speed got there.

ROTT: Meaning he doesn't know if the train was accelerated manually or by other means. NTSB officials are scheduled to meet with the train's engineer, Brandon Bostian, in the coming days. But based on comments made by his lawyer, Robert Goggin, on ABC's "Good Morning America," the engineer may not be able to answer either. He says that Bostian had 15 staples put in his head and was deeply concussed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

ROBERT GOGGIN: I believe as a result of the concussion, he has absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events.

ROTT: Goggin says Bostian was distraught when he heard what had happened and that he's been told his memory will likely return as the effects of the concussion subside. Investigators can only hope that's the case. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.