Human Error Possible In Deadly ’15 Amtrak Crash, Documents Suggest

Federal Officials Investigating An Amtrak Derailment In Philadelphia Last Year Left Open The Possibility On Monday That Human Error Led To The Crash As They Released Documents Showing That No Problems Were Found With The Train Or With The Tracks And Signals At The Site Of The Accident.

While the National Transportation Safety Board did not lay blame on the train’s engineer or identify a probable cause for the derailment, officials said they would release their full findings and possibly recommendations in the next few months.

The safety board on Monday released hundreds of pages of reports from the investigation into the May 12 derailment, which killed eight people and injured more than 200 others. The documents included transcripts of two interviews with the engineer, Brandon Bostian, providing the best look yet at his memories of the crash.

In an interview three days after the accident, Mr. Bostian told investigators he had hurt his head and did not remember the crash. He said he did not recall any mechanical problems during the trip, though he remembered a loud wind noise from a nearby window.

Shortly before the crash, Mr. Bostian said, he grew worried when he heard over his radio that the windshield of a nearby train had been hit by an object. “I was a little bit concerned for my safety,” Mr. Bostian told investigators.

The train, en route from Washington to New York, hurtled off the tracks in Philadelphia shortly after 9 p.m. It was traveling 106 miles per hour as it entered a curve where the speed limit was 50 m.p.h.

In a second interview, in November, Mr. Bostian said he remembered a few more details, including the moments before the derailment as he lurched to one side and began to apply the brakes. He said he felt the train tip over and realized it was going off the tracks.

“I remember holding onto the controls tightly and feeling like, O.K. well this is it, I’m going over,” he said.

Mr. Bostian, who told investigators there were gaps in his memory, said he believed he accelerated from 70 shortly before the crash because he thought the speed limit in the stretch before the curve was 80 m.p.h. Pushing the throttle to accelerate to 80 m.p.h. was the last thing he remembered until he found himself in the curve.

At night, Mr. Bostian said it was difficult to see where the curve began. “It would be easy to hit the curve a little bit hot by 5 or 10 miles an hour if you weren’t being careful and looking very carefully at the cues because it can sneak up on you,” he said.

In one safety board report, officials noted that Mr. Bostian said he did not look for speed restriction signs near the tracks because he believed they were sometimes missing or wrong. A footnote explained that Amtrak said the permanent speed restriction sign for the curve where the derailment took place was “properly displayed with the correct speed of 50 m.p.h.”

The report said Mr. Bostian tested negative for drugs and alcohol, had not been under high levels of stress and had not been given a diagnosis of a sleep disorder. In January 2015 he had Lasik eye surgery and no longer wore glasses, the report said.

Lawyers representing people killed or injured in the derailment said on Monday it was significant that Mr. Bostian had acknowledged that he was accelerating the train. The victims of the crash are still struggling to understand why the crash happened, said Robert J. Mongeluzzi, one of the lawyers.

“Nowhere in the 2,200 pages of documents is there any justification for why Brandon Bostian was going 106 miles per hour,” he said.

Investigators examined Mr. Bostian’s cellphone and found no evidence that he was using it at the time of the crash. They have also focused on reports that two trains in the area were struck by flying objects on the night of the accident.

On Sunday night, an Acela train traveling from Washington to New York was struck by an object around 7 p.m., not far from the site of the derailment in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia. Amtrak is investigating the incident, which did not lead to injuries to the passengers or the crew, said Craig Schulz, a spokesman.

Mr. Bostian, 32, who grew up near Memphis and long had an interest in trains, had been working for Amtrak as an engineer based in New York since 2012, the documents said. He is on unpaid administrative leave.

Mr. Bostian’s colleagues praised his job performance in interviews with investigators. One conductor said Mr. Bostian was “on top of his game” and “very knowledgeable of the territory.”

The derailment renewed calls for railroads to install a system, known as positive train control, that safety officials said could have prevented the crash. The technology, which can automatically slow or stop a train, was not in operation on the tracks where the crash occurred.

Congress extended the deadline last year for commuter and freight railroads to install the system. In December, Amtrak said it had been installed on all tracks it owns between Washington and New York.

Mr. Schulz said the railroad was cooperating with the safety board. “The goal is for us to fully understand what happened and how we can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future,” he said.

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