Despite Amtrak engineer's clarity, no answer why train sped

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Posted: Feb 01, 2016 11:32 PM
Despite Amtrak engineer's clarity, no answer why train sped

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — His memory significantly sharper, Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian spent an hour last November walking investigators through the minutes before the Amtrak train he was operating derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight and injuring more than 200 people.

Bostian, 32, said he remembered speeding up for an 80 mph straightaway and hitting the brakes a few minutes later as he felt his body lurch and the locomotive starting to tip over.

But in interview transcripts that were among 2,200 pages of documents made public Monday, Bostian still couldn't explain why the train kept accelerating, topping out at 106 mph as it entered a sharp curve with a 50 mph speed restriction.

Here are the key takeaways from the National Transportation Safety Board's document release:

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WHAT DID THE ENGINEER REMEMBER?

Bostian recalled momentary confusion about the speed limit on a straightaway prior to the curve, thinking it was 70 mph instead of 80 mph, and braking a few minutes later when he realized he was going too fast around the curve.

Bostian said he felt the train tip over and realized it was going to derail. He said he remembered seeing objects, possibly paperwork, falling around him as the locomotive left the tracks.

"I remember holding onto the controls tightly and feeling like, OK well this is it, I'm going over. And so I tried to brace myself."

The night of the crash, an injured Bostian told doctors that he remembered feeling the train swerve, falling out of his seat and then thinking "it must be a dream," according to triage notes made public by investigators.

Yet, Bostian told investigators in an initial interview three days later that his last pre-crash memory involved ringing the bell on the locomotive as it passed through North Philadelphia station. That's about three minutes from the curve.

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WHAT DOES OTHER EVIDENCE SHOW ABOUT THE TRAIN'S SPEED?

The train's data recorder shows that at about 55 seconds and a mile and a half before the derailment, Bostian applied full throttle and held it there for about 30 seconds. The train reached a speed of about 95 mph.

He then slightly lowered the throttle for 2 seconds before returning to full throttle and holding it there for another 20 seconds. Three seconds before the derailment, at a speed of 106 mph, Bostian applied the emergency brake, which reduced the speed to 102 mph.

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WAS THE TRAIN HIT BY ROCKS?

Early in the investigation, the NTSB focused on whether the train had been hit with a rock or other projectile minutes before the crash, as happened to a commuter train running along the same tracks.

Bostian told investigators he was concerned about the welfare of the commuter train's engineer and "a little bit concerned" for his own safety, but he never indicated in either NTSB interview that his train had been struck too.

"There's been so many times where I've had reports of rocks that I haven't seen anything, that I felt like it was unlikely that it would impact me," Bostian told investigators in November, adding that he figured whoever damaged the commuter train had probably left the area by the time he rolled through.

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WHAT HAS BEEN RULED OUT?

The NTSB said Monday that evidence showed no issues with the tracks, signals or the locomotive.

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HOW ARE VICTIMS REACTING?

The lawyers for more than two-dozen crash victims said the evidence made public Monday showed an institutional failure by Amtrak and that Bostian's changing memory was a "red flag."

"We believe his inconsistent story speaks volumes," said lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi.

Bostian's recollection in November that he was accelerating into the curve showed he was concerned for his safety after the commuter train was hit by a rock, lawyer Tom Kline said.

"We look forward to the day we are allowed to put him under oath," Kline said.

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AP Writer Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.