Human Error and High Speed Blamed for Deadly Philadelphia Amtrak Crash
Brandon Bostian, pictured in Normal, Ill. in 2006, was the engineer of the Amtrak train that derailed north of Philadelphia, killing at least 8 people and injuring more than 200.Steve Smedley / The Pantagraph via Zuma Press file
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Human error and high speed were likely to blame in the deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia last year that killed eight people and injured 200 more, federal officials said Tuesday.
Engineer Brandon Bostian was distracted by radio dispatches from another train and “may have lost situational awareness of where he was” before the crash, said Stephen Jenner, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator.
“The engineer lost track of where he was before he accelerated to a high rate of speed,” Jenner said.
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Jenner's testimony was further confirmation of an NBC News report Monday — based on information from a source close to the investigation — that Bostian failed to slow down his train on May 12, 2015 because he was distracted by radio chatter.
The NTSB, in their probable cause finding, also agreed that a contributing factor was that Amtrak 188 was not yet equipped with a positive train control device that would have automatically slowed the train down when it exceeded the speed limit.
“An engineer who is not fatigued, distracted, or impaired is not infallible on their best day,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said.
Also, the NTSB agreed that there were "inadequate requirements for occupant protections in the likelihood of a train overturning." And the board members agreed on a series of recommendations by NTSB staffers aimed at preventing another tragedy like this.
Bostian didn’t realize he was already at Frankford Juntion and was traveling at 104 mph on a curved stretch of track where the speed limit is just 50 mph, the feds found.
NTSB investigator Ted Turpin said there was no evidence to back up a report from the engineer on another train that Bostian's windshield had been hit by gunfire. And there was no evidence that Bostian was talking on his cell phone or under the influence of drugs of alcohol.
"This was a standard human error," Turpin said of the engineer. "They have no more of the right stuff than pilots or anyone else."
Prior to this crash, Bostian had a sterling work record and "no past performance issues," said Turpin. "He was a concerned operator."
Bostian suffered a concussion in the accident and told investigators in February that he could barely recall the critical seconds before the nighttime crash. He claimed to have a "dream-like" memory of his locomotive going too fast around a curve and hitting the brakes when he realized it was going to tip over.
The engineer also told investigators he remembered hearing — shortly before the crash — radio dispatches about a rock hitting a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train.
Dr. Mary Pat McKay, an expert at emergency medicine, said it's not unusual for somebody like Bostian to suffer from amnesia after this kind of calamity. "The engineer had a head injury," she said.
There was no immediate comment from Bostian or his lawyer.
Corky Siemaszko is a senior writer at NBC News Digital.