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Amtrak Engineer Recalls 'Dream-Like' Memory Before Deadly Philadelphia Crash

The engineer at the controls of the Amtrak train that ran off the rails outside Philadelphia last May, killing eight people, told investigators that he could barely recall the moments leading up the nighttime crash.

Instead, he had a "dream-like" memory of his locomotive going too fast around a curve, and hitting the brakes as he realized the train was going to tip over.

"I remember holding onto the controls tightly and feeling like, okay well this is it, I'm going over," Brandon Bostian, 32, said in one of two interviews published by the National Transportation Safety Board Monday as part of a massive release of documents related to the case.

Bostian said he tried to brace himself, and saw "objects fly in front of me, kind of a bluish tint to them."

NTSB: Amtrak Engineer Wasn't Using His Cell Phone During Crash 2:00

The next thing he knew, he said, the crash was over. He heard screams from passengers. He walked through brush toward them, and turned on his phone to call 911.

Bostian said he couldn't remember where he was, and worried about not being able to tell the 911 dispatcher. But the dispatcher said emergency crews were already on their way.

In both interviews, conducted three days and five months after the crash, Bostian was cooperative, offering details of his evening run from Washington to New York, including passing a disabled Philadelphia commuter train with a windshield blown out by a rock or some other object. Other workers recalled that incident, and hearing about another Amtrak train that reported a similar scenario.

Assistant conductor Akida Henry told investigators that she remembered Bostian getting on the radio to report their train was being targeted.

"I'm not sure if somebody is shooting at us or they' re throwing rocks, but I see it out my mirror," Akida recalled Bostian saying.

Moments later, Bostian blew the horn and the train derailed, Henry said.

That, presumably, was part of Bostian's lost memory; he did not mention it to investigators.

Authorities later found no evidence of damage from gunfire on the locomotive's windshield or engine. But they have not ruled out that the train was struck by something else.

One of Bostian's last recollections before things went awry was realizing that he was going 10 mph below the recommended 80 mph on a straightaway, and opening the throttle.

Image: Brandon Bostian was the engineer of the derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia.
Brandon Bostian was the engineer of the derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia. via LinkedIn

The 2,000 pages of documents released by the NTSB mark the deepest insight into investigators' findings yet made public.

But they don't indicate a cause, or assign blame. That's for another announcement, which often comes a year or more after an accident.

For now, the exact reasons for the crash remain a mystery.

Eight people died and more than 200 were hurt in the May 12 derailment in which Bostian's train was going 106 mph in a curve where the speed limit was 50 mph, investigators said.

Bostian, whom friends and colleagues have described as safety-obsessed, suffered a concussion in the crash. Investigators have said there is no evidence that Bostian was using his phone at the time of the crash; Bostian said he fetched it from his bag after the derailment to call 911. Tests for alcohol and drugs in his blood came back negative.

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The crash also focused attention on the stretch of track where the accident occurred, which wasn't outfitted with technology, widespread in the rail industry, that automatically slow a train that is moving faster than the speed limit. The system arguably would have spared Amtrak 188; it has since been installed on all tracks between Washington and New York, although it remains spotty nationally.

Depending on how the NTSB rules on Bostian's role in the crash, he could face criminal charges. For now, he's on unpaid leave.