The front-facing data recorder on the doomed Amtrak Regional 188 captured the seconds leading up to the devastating derailment that would kill at least eight and wound more than 200 others. It revealed that 65 seconds before the train entered the curve where it derailed, it accelerated to 75 miles per hour. By 16 seconds before it entered the curve — where the speed limit was just 50 mph —the train reached over 100 mph, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) explained during a press briefing Thursday evening.
“Mere seconds into the turn, we can see the train tilting approximately 10 degrees to the right and then the recording went blank,” NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt explained. Sumwalt also announced that the train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian, agreed to be interviewed by the NTSB and that the group would speak with him in the coming days.
When asked whether the tragedy could have been avoided through the installation of a system preventing high-speed derailments, commonly known as Positive Train Control (PTC), Sumwalt was unequivocal: ”I can say confidentially that Positive Train Control would have prevented this accident,” he said. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman pledged on Thursday that PTC would be installed on the corridor by the end of the year.
“For a lot of people on that train, it was routine journey. For workers, it was their office,” President Barack Obama said on Thursday. “Until we know for certain, I want to reiterate what I’ve said before: We need to invest in infrastructure — and not just when something bad happens.”
As of Thursday night, Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York City remained suspended. Modified service was available between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
Calling the crash a “great tragedy,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said at a Thursday afternoon press conference that all 243 passengers on the train are now believed to be accounted for.
The eighth victim was extricated by hydraulic tools early Thursday morning after the city’s fire department was asked to bring cadaver-searching dogs to the scene. “The dog came on a couple of spots and we were able to find one other passenger in the wreckage,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer.
Meanwhile, the engineer who operated the Amtrak train’s controls said he does not remember the catastrophic crash that has raised concerns about transportation safety, according to his attorney. “He remembers driving the train, he remembers going to that area generally, has absolutely no recollection of the incident or anything unusual,” attorney Robert Goggin said of his client, Bostian, in an interview with ABC News Thursday morning.
Goggin added that the next thing Bostian, 32, of Queens, New York, recalled was being thrown around and eventually finding his cell phone to call police. Bostian, according to his attorney, had 14 staples placed in his head and injured his knee as a result of the derailment.
The engineer, noted Goggin, is working with authorities and has voluntarily turned over a blood sample and his cell phone.
Federal investigators are still trying to determine why Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 jumped the tracks late Tuesday evening. The National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday that the train was likely barreling forward at 106 miles per hour when it approached a bend in the rail where the speed limit was just 50 miles per hour. The emergency break appeared to have been applied just seconds before the derailment.
Although officials haven’t determined why the crash occurred, Nutter had some harsh words for Bostian. Nutter told CNN on Wednesday evening that “clearly, it was reckless in terms of driving by the engineer. There’s no way in the world he should have been going that fast into the curve.” He continued, “I don’t know what was going on with him. I don’t know what was going on in the cab, but there’s really no excuse that can be offered, literally, unless he had a heart attack.” During Thursday’s press conference, Nutter was asked about his remarks and acknowledged he was “expressive” in his language but insisted he did not say anything many in Philadelphia and America were not thinking. “I often speak from the heart,” said the mayor.
The crash has also highlighted ongoing concerns about funding for national infrastructure, including railways and highways. The Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the repair and building highways, bridges, and mass transit, is scheduled to expire in May unless Congress acts. Separately, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted on Wednesday — less than 24 hours after the derailment — to reduce grants to Amtrak by $252 million.
Former Transportation Secretary under President Obama, Ray LaHood, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday morning that “there is no courage on Capitol Hill” in fixing America’s infrastructure problems. “America is one big pot hole. Our infrastructure is crumbling,” he said.
La Hood, a former GOP congressman, also took aim at his own party for not investing enough in the country’s infrastructure. “I simply think that Republicans are short-sighted, have a blind spot. And in countries where they have invested in rail — in China, in Japan, in Europe — they have a great transportation system. We haven’t done that.”
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 43 patients still in local hospitals as a result of the derailment. Dr. Herbert Cushing, the chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital, said in a news conference that 16 people — eight of whom are in critical condition — remained at his facility but are expected to recover. He added that the patients are between 19 and 80 years old, and that several were dealing with rib cage or lung injuries.
“The injuries were sustained by most folks because they had things fall on them, and those things included other people. That was a very common story I heard … It’s not just sort of falling on them — people were hurled violently against each other and there was some luggage flying around. And then some of the injuries were people being thrown against seats, and you know, the sides of the train compartments when it flipped over,” said Cushing.
Obama said in a statement on Wednesday that he is “saddened and shocked” by the crash, but applauded the response so far. “As we work to determine exactly what happened, I commend the fire, police and medical personnel working tirelessly and professionally to save lives,” the president said.
Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania ordered all flags at the Capitol and additional state buildings to fly at half staff through Sunday in remembrance of the Amtrak victims.