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By Phil Helsel

Investigators are trying to determine whether an Amtrak train was struck by an object before it derailed Tuesday, killing eight people, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.

An assistant conductor on board Amtrak Regional 188 told NTSB investigators Friday that she thought she heard the engineer say that an object struck the locomotive before it crashed, after a local SEPTA train engineer reported that his locomotive was hit by either a rock or shot at, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said.

"She recalled that the SEPTA engineer had reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock or shot at, and that the SEPTA engineer said that he had a broken windshield and he placed his train into emergency stop," Sumwalt told reporters Friday.

"She also believed that she heard her engineer say something about his train being struck by something," he said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been called in to examine a "fracture pattern" on the lower left section of the train’s windshield to see if the damage may have been caused by an object that struck the train before the crash, Sumwalt said.

The engineer, Brandon Bostian, 32, also spoke with NTSB investigators Friday. Sumwalt said Bostian told investigators that he doesn’t remember anything after the train passed the North Philadelphia station. Sumwalt said Bostian was "extremely cooperative" with investigators.

Bostian told investigators he didn't recall any problems with the train handling, and said he wasn't fatigued or ill, Sumwalt said.

Federal investigators have said the train was hurtling at 106 mph, more than twice the 50 mph speed limit for the sharp curve where it derailed. The train sped up from 70 mph to more than 100 mph over the course of about a minute before the crash.

Investigators are looking at why the train was going so fast, and if there is any mechanical anomaly that could cause the train to accelerate without an input.

Bostian has been employed by Amtrak since 2006, and began as a conductor. In 2010 he became a locomotive engineer, and has been on this route for "several weeks" but he demonstrated "a very good working knowledge" of the territory and speed restrictions when questioned by investigators, Sumwalt said.

The recorder has been taken from the SEPTA train that may have been struck but has not yet been analyzed, Sumwalt said. An initial examination of the scene did not indicate that the train was struck by an object, he said, but investigators are now looking at the possibility.

"We’re very interested in this report, we want to learn more about it, so we will use all sources of information that we can to independently validate that," Sumwalt said.

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