Amtrak should install inward-facing cameras with audio recorders on all of its locomotives, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Wednesday.
The NTSB made the recommendation following a May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight passengers and injured 200 others.
Investigators have had a difficult time determining the cause of the crash because the train’s engineer sustained a concussion and doesn’t remember what happened. The New York-bound train entered a 50 mph curve north of Philadelphia at more than twice the appropriate speed when it derailed.
The NTSB has long said that recording devices in locomotives could provide valuable information to accident investigators. It took investigators weeks to determine that the engineer wasn’t using his personal cellphone at the time of the crash. An image recorder could have revealed that information sooner.
“The information that recorders can provide to ensure that crews are consistently operating trains safely is just too valuable to ignore,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart in a statement.
NTSB has recommended the installation of in-cab recording devices 12 times in 20 years, but federal regulators have not required them. Like airplane cockpits, locomotives have event recorders to capture data like speed, acceleration and braking. But unlike airplane “black boxes,” they do not capture audio.
Amtrak announced in late May that it would install inward-facing cameras on its newer electric locomotives on the Northeast Corridor, a fleet of 70 units built by Siemens. The passenger railroad said it would develop a plan to install the cameras on its remaining fleet, including the Acela Express and more than 200 diesel locomotives.
But Amtrak’s existing outward-facing cameras are not fire- or crash-protected, the NTSB wrote the railroad’s chairman and CEO, Joseph Boardman. It also said that Amtrak has yet to indicate whether the new inward cameras are protected and record audio, establish a schedule for their installation or describe how the images would be used by the railroad.
The NTSB first recommended the devices after a February 1996 crash in Silver Spring, Md., between an Amtrak train and a commuter train. That fiery crash killed 11 people, including the commuter train’s crew members. Because of the lack of audio and video evidence, the board said in its 1997 accident investigation report, it could not determine what caused the engineer to disregard a signal that should have told him to slow down.
Since then, another 45 more people died in accidents where the lack of information about train crew activity made it more difficult to determine the cause. In each case, the NTSB, which has no enforcement power, asked the Federal Railroad Administration to require inward-facing recording devices. On Wednesday, NTSB repeated its call to the agency.
Testifying before Congress last month, acting chief Sarah Feinberg indicated that the agency would soon announce a series of proposals to address human error. Matt Lehner, an FRA spokesman, said the agency “strongly agrees” with the NTSB’s recommendation.