The engineer in this week’s deadly train derailment doesn’t remember the crash, the lawyer said Thursday, complicating the investigation into why the Amtrak passenger train was going more than twice the allowed speed when it shot off a sharp curve.
With an unidentified eighth body found in the wreckage Thursday, it was the deadliest U.S. train accident in nearly six years. The Philadelphia mayor said all passengers and crew were now accounted for.
Questions grew about why a track technology that would have prevented the train from going over the speed limit Tuesday night had not yet been installed as planned.
The 32-year-old engineer, Brandon Bostian, has so far refused to speak with police.
“He remembers coming into the curve. He remembers attempting to reduce speed and thereafter, he was knocked out,” Robert Goggin told ABC. He said the last thing Bostian remembered was coming to, looking for his bag, retrieving his cellphone and calling for help.
Goggin said his client, who suffered a concussion and had 14 staples in his head, was distraught when he learned of the devastation. He said his client “cooperated fully” with police and immediately consented to a blood test and surrendered his cellphone. He believes his client’s memory will likely return once the head injury subsides.
The derailment happened along the country’s busiest rail corridor between Washington and Boston, where the national passenger railway carries 11.6 million passengers a year. Amtrak suspended all service until further notice along the Philadelphia-to-New York stretch, forcing thousands of people to find other ways to travel.
The train was moving at 106 mph (170 kph) before it ran off the rails along a sharp curve where the speed limit drops to just 50 mph (80 kph), federal investigators have said.
The engineer applied the emergency brakes moments before the crash but slowed the train to only 102 mph (164 kph) by the time the locomotive’s black box stopped recording data, said Robert Sumwalt, of the National Transportation Safety Board. The speed limit just before the bend is 80 mph (128 kph), he said.
Despite pressure from Congress and safety regulators, Amtrak had not installed along that section of track a technology that uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to prevent trains from going over the speed limit. Amtrak had said it expected to finish installing positive train control technology throughout its Northeast Corridor by the end of 2012.
Amtrak officials didn’t reply to questions from The Associated Press about why the technology wasn’t on the Philadelphia tracks.
“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” Sumwalt said.
Sumwalt said federal accident investigators want to talk to the engineer but will give him a day or two to recover from the shock of the accident.
Mayor Michael Nutter told CNN there was “no way in the world” the engineer should have been going that fast into the curve and called him “reckless and irresponsible.” Sumwalt said Nutter’s comments were “subjective” and said investigators are not making any “judgment calls.”
More than 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured in the crash. Passengers crawled out the windows of the toppled rail cars, many of them with broken bones and burns.
Dr. Herbert Cushing, Temple’s chief medical officer, said 16 of the injured remained in the hospital and eight remain in critical condition. He said all are expected to recover.
The mayor said some people were unaccounted for but cautioned that some passengers listed on the Amtrak manifest might not have boarded the train, while others might not have checked in with authorities.
Amtrak inspected the stretch of track on Tuesday, just hours before the accident, and found no defects, the Federal Railroad Administration said. Besides the data recorder, the train had a video camera in its front end that could yield clues to what happened, Sumwalt said.
Safety technology might have prevented deadly Amtrak crash
The derailment could have been avoided if a long-sought safety technology had been installed on its tracks and trains, according to information gathered by accident investigators.
Seven years ago, Congress gave Amtrak and freight and commuter railroads until the end of this year to install the technology, called positive train control, on their trains and tracks. But few, if any, railroads are expected to meet the deadline. Now lawmakers are proposing to give railroads another five to seven years to get the task done.
The technology uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position. It can automatically brake to prevent derailments due to excessive speed, collisions with other trains, trains entering track where maintenance is being done or going the wrong way because of a switching mistake.
It’s all aimed at preventing human error, which is responsible for about 40 percent of train accidents.
A preliminary review of the Amtrak train’s event data recorder shows it was traveling at 106 mph (170 kph) in an 80 mph zone just before it entered a curve where the speed limit is 50 mph, National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said Wednesday. The train’s engineer applied maximum braking power seconds before the crash, but it was too late.
“We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” Sumwalt told reporters.
Not counting Tuesday’s derailment, the NTSB has investigated 29 passenger and freight train accidents that officials say could have been prevented by positive train control since 2004. Sixty-eight people died and more than 1,100 were injured in those crashes.
The board has been urging installation of the technology, or its precursors, for 45 years.
In 2008, a month after a commuter train and a freight train collided in California, killing 25 people, Congress passed a law requiring that positive train control be installed by Dec. 31, 2015. But railroads have long complained that complications will prevent them from meeting that deadline.
In March, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that would give railroads until 2020 to install the technology, and another two years after that if they need more time.
Three years ago, Amtrak announced it expected to finish installing positive train control throughout its busy Northeast Corridor by the end of 2012.
Amtrak officials didn’t reply to questions from The Associated Press about why the technology hadn’t been installed on the Philadelphia tracks where the derailment took place.
One of the obstacles is the cost to industry of implementing positive train control, estimated in the billions of dollars. A Republican-controlled House panel approved deep spending cuts to Amtrak’s budget on Wednesday just hours after the Philadelphia accident. An attempt by Democratic lawmakers to boost Amtrak spending by $1 billion was rejected.
Story by Associated Press