The engineer of an Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia last month was not using his cellphone at the time of the crash, federal investigators said Wednesday.
Though it was the first new development in the investigation in nearly four weeks, it still doesn’t explain why the train was operating at twice the posted speed heading into a sharp curve.
Eight people were killed and nearly 200 passengers were injured in the May 12 crash, many severely.
The crash prompted emergency measures from the Federal Railroad Administration that apply to Amtrak and commuter railroads.
The engineer, Brandon Bostian, told the National Transportation Safety Board that he had no memory of the crash. He also told investigators that he had not used his cellphone while he was operating New York-bound train 188, which had originated in Washington.
However, it took investigators weeks to confirm that because of unanticipated difficulty in matching the different time stamps on Bostian’s cellphone data to the sequence of events the day of the crash. At a hearing last week in the House of Representatives, lawmakers vented their frustration over the delay.
Investigators did testify that no malfunctions were found in the track, signals and the train itself, ruling out mechanical failure.
Earlier, they had probed the possibility that the locomotive windshield had been struck by an object, possibly a bullet or a rock, but recordings of radio communications from the engineer didn’t indicate that he reported any strike to the dispatcher or other trains. Also, footage from the locomotive’s outward facing camera showed no objects coming toward the windshield.
Bostian’s train approached the 50 mph curve at Frankford Junction in Northeast Philadelphia at more than 100 mph, according to the locomotive event recorder.
In the weeks since the crash, the Federal Railroad Administration has required Amtrak and commuter railroads take steps to ensure trains automatically comply with such speed restrictions. Amtrak and some commuter railroads will meet a Dec. 31 deadline for installing Positive Train Control, a collision-avoidance system mandated by Congress.
The system was not yet operational at the site of last month’s derailment.
Amtrak also announced it would begin installing inward-facing cameras on its locomotives. The NTSB has recommended inward-facing cameras on locomotives, but they’ve encountered resistance from rail labor unions because of privacy concerns.
An inward-facing camera could have confirmed Bostian’s statement about his cellphone use, avoiding weeks of uncertainty on that question.