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In a congressional hearing that, at times, was emotional, lawmakers pressed Amtrak officials on Tuesday about why the rail service didn’t move more quickly to implement an upgraded safety system that could have potentially helped avoid the fatal train derailment outside of Philadelphia last month.
Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman, became emotional when testifying before congress about the crash.
"We are responsible for the incident and its consequences," Boardman said and added that adding positive train control, a technology which can help prevent excessively speeding trains from derailing, is the "single greatest contribution my generation of railroaders can make."
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., a leading Amtrak critic, chastised federal regulators, saying installation of positive train control has been slowed by the actions of another federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission, which has been slow to grant railroads the radio spectrum they need to make the systems work.
The House Transportation Committee hearing comes two weeks after a Northeast Corridor train derailed outside Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200 others. Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the accident, which occurred as the train entered a curve at more than twice the speed limit. The engineer, Brandon Bostian, who suffered a head injury, has said them he does not recall the crash.
Following the crash, the Federal Railroad Administration ordered Amtrak to take immediate safety measures — but none related to cameras. The recommendations covered automatic train control technology, assessing risk on curves and putting up more speed limit signs.
Lawmakers on the committee expressed concern that Amtrak did not move sooner to outfit locomotives on its Northeast Corridor line with "inward-facing" video cameras to improve safety, monitor engineers' performance and help investigators probe accidents and other mishaps.
The agency announced late last month that it would add the cameras to trains on that line.
Keystone Service between New York, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania will also get the technology, Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement.
Amtrak's Acela Express trains will get the cameras sometime later, Boardman said. Amtrak already has outward-facing cameras on its locomotives, along with other monitoring equipment.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board found that investigators did not detect any anomalies when they examined the train braking systems, signals, and track geometry.
Based on the NTSB's preliminary review of the train's event recorder data, the train was travelling at 106 mph before the emergency brake system engaged. The data indicated that the engineer activated the emergency brakes seconds before the derailment.
The NTSB forensic experts are examining the Amtrak engineer's cell phone and records.
Although the records appear to indicate that calls were made, text messages sent, and data used on the day of the accident, investigators have not yet made a determination if there was any phone activity during the time the train was being operated.
Investigators are in the process of correlating the time stamps in the engineer's cell phone records with multiple data sources including the locomotive event recorder, the locomotive outward facing video, recorded radio communications, and surveillance video.
The NTSB is also investigating reports of vandals throwing rocks or other objects at passing trains around the time of the derailment. Damage to locomotive windshields and to at least one passenger car has been reported.
The Amtrak 188 locomotive windshield has impact damage, however, it has not been determined if the damage was from a thrown object or as a result of the derailment.
The NTSB was assisted by the FBI in evaluating the damage to the locomotive windshield which found no evidence of damage that could have been caused by a firearm.