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NTSB Amtrak 188 Derailment Investigation


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released roughly 2,000 pages of documents pertaining to the May 12, 2015 Amtrak 188 derailment in North Philadelphia. The Amtrak derailment was the deadliest accident that Amtrak has seen since 1999. Eight of the 238 passengers aboard the Amtrak train died in last year’s derailment, and more than 200 others sustained injuries.

Without coming to any conclusions about what specifically caused the Amtrak 188 derailment, the NTSB docket ruled out a number of possible contributing factors. Thus far, the investigation has been able to rule out issues with the track, the locomotive itself, and the train signals directing engineers in the area.

Noteworthy in the accident docket are the interviews with Amtrak 188 engineer Brandon Bostian, who was at the controls of the train when it derailed. The train was traveling at 106 miles-per-hour as it approached a curve with a posted speed limit of 50 miles-per-hour.

Bostian was interviewed by investigators three days after the Amtrak 188 derailment, then again months later in November. In both interviews, Bostian could recall little from the accident. He told investigators last May that he remembered passing the train platforms in North Philadelphia. Bostian recalled “turning on the bell,” then the next thing he knew he was “standing up in the locomotive cab” in the aftermath of the derailment. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bostian was diagnosed with a concussion following the train accident.

His recollection of events when he was interviewed a second time last November was still spotty at best. The engineer was unable to recall the key moments prior to the Amtrak 188 derailment. Despite Bostian’s fuzzy memory, NTSB officials were quick to say that the engineer had been extremely cooperative during the investigation.

The NTSB determined last June that Bostian had not been using his cell phone prior to the Amtrak 188 derailment. The engineer unlocked his cell phone so that investigators could review its data without having to obtain a subpoena. Amtrak has a strict policy prohibiting distractions from personal electronics and Bostian was cleared of any suspicion.

Some had posited that Bostian must have suffered a medical emergency prior to the Amtrak 188 derailment, or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to the accident docket, Bostian has no medical history that would suggest a potential problem and he tested negative for drugs and alcohol during a post-crash screening. He did have a shorter than normal break between a trip to Washington, D.C., and his return trip to New York City on the day of the accident, but he told investigators he felt good.

In the end, the accident docket made public thousands of pages of information. This is considered to be a factual report, so it offered no conclusions or commentary on the cause. It is anticipated that a probable cause report will be issued in the relatively near future.

Unfortunately, even considering all the contents of the factual report, it remains unclear what the reasons were that led to that the train accelerating to a speed twice the limit for the curve. It will be interesting to read what the final NTSB opinion will be.

The NTSB is likely to wrap up the Amtrak 188 investigation later this spring by voting on a probable cause and issuing any relevant safety recommendations.



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