TIME Transportation

Amtrak Crash Investigators Focusing on Engineer’s Cell Phone

Amtrak Crash
Joseph Kaczmarek—AP Emergency personnel work at the scene of an Amtrak train wreck on May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.

National Transportation Safety Board found no problems with train's brakes, signals or tracks

The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of last month’s deadly Amtrak crash outside Philadelphia is zeroing in on the engineer’s cell phone records after establishing that there were no mechanical problems that contributed to the accident.

According to a preliminary report released Tuesday, the NTSB has established that there were “no anomalies” in the train’s brake system, signals or track structure. Investigators have obtained engineer Brandon Bostian’s cell phone records and have established that calls and texts were made that day, but they’re still working to figure out whether he was on his phone as he was driving the train. Bostian suffered a head injury in the crash, and his lawyer has said he has no memory of what happened.

The NTSB also found damage to the train’s windshield, but couldn’t determine whether this came from rocks that were thrown at the train or from the crash itself. They found no evidence that the damage was caused by gunshots.

TIME Transportation

New Amtrak Cameras Will Monitor Train Engineers Following Derailment

Amtrak Resumes Service On Busy Northeast Corridor After Deadly Train Crash
Alex Wong—Getty Images An Amtrak train arrives at Union Station on May 18, 2015 in Washington.

Safety officials have been recommending cameras for years

Amtrak said Tuesday it would install inward-facing cameras on locomotive cabs after a train derailment earlier this month killed 8 people and wounded about 200 others.

The cameras, which the National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending for years, would record the actions of train engineers and could help explain accidents like the one on May 12. Trains currently have black boxes and outward-facing cameras, but neither record the actions of the people driving the train. The NTSB has been recommending sound recorders in locomotive cabs since the 1990s, the Associated Press reports, and five years ago added that there should be video recorders as well. Amtrak will start by equipping 70 trains that service the Northeast Corridor, with 38 cameras installed by the end of the year.

Northeast Regional train 188 was speeding at 106 mph around a curve where the speed limit was 50 mph when it derailed. Brandon Bostian, the train’s engineer, has said through his lawyer that he has no recollection of the crash, possibly because of a concussion he sustained when he hit his head.

“Inward-facing video cameras will help improve safety and serve as a valuable investigative tool, ” Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement. “We have tested these cameras and will begin installation as an additional measure to enhance safety.”

 

TIME Transportation

See the Letter Amtrak’s President Sent to Customers About the Fatal Derailment

"Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event"

Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman addressed the deadly Philadelphia derailment of train 188 that killed eight people in a letter sent to Amtrak customers on Friday. “With truly heavy hearts, we mourn those who died,” Boardman’s letter reads. “Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.” The National Transportation Safety Board and FBI are investigating the incident.

See the full letter below:

A MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT AND CEO JOE BOARDMAN ON TRAIN 188
The derailment of Northeast Regional Train 188 was a terrible tragedy that we are responding to with every resource we have available. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation to determine the cause of the incident, and Amtrak is providing full cooperation.

With truly heavy hearts, we mourn those who died. Their loss leaves holes in the lives of their families and communities. On behalf of the entire Amtrak family, I offer our sincere sympathies and prayers for them and their loved ones. Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.

We recognize that for everyone onboard the train, including those who suffered injuries, the healing process may be long. Within 24 hours of the incident, Amtrak set up a Family Assistance Center in Philadelphia to work closely with the family of passengers and crew on the train. We are also working with the individuals and families affected by this event to help them with transportation, lodging, and of course, medical bills and funeral expenses.

Amtrak is ever grateful to the City of Philadelphia—its first responders who bravely worked in difficult conditions, including the dark of night, to rescue and provide aid to hundreds; its hospital personnel who went into full alert as patients arrived at emergency rooms; its officials who quickly implemented a response plan; and its citizens who opened their doors to offer assistance.

Although our current focus is on the passengers and employees affected by this incident and the resulting service disruption along the Northeast Corridor, we must also take time to learn from this event. Passenger railroading is at its core about people; the safety of our passengers and employees was, is and always will be our number one priority. Our goal is to fully understand what happened and how we can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future. We will also continue to focus on completing Positive Train Control implementation in the Northeast Corridor by December of 2015.

Thank you for your support of America’s Railroad during this difficult time.

Sincerely,

Joe Boardman
President and Chief Executive Officer

TIME Transportation

5 Technologies That Could Have Prevented Transportation Disasters

Rescue workers climb into the wreckage of a derailed Amtrak train to search for victims in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015.
Bryan Woolston—Reuters Rescue workers climb into the wreckage of a derailed Amtrak train to search for victims in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015.

How to prevent future incidents like the Amtrak derailment

Could technology have prevented the derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia earlier this week? Officials pointed out Thursday that an automatic speed control system could’ve slowed down the train before the incident, potentially stopping the wreck that claimed eight lives and injured hundreds of other riders.

That system, known as positive train control, is being installed by several U.S. railroads after Congress signed a law in 2008 mandating its use after a devastating train collision in California killed over 20 passengers. While Amtrak has already begun installing positive train control — in fact, it was further along in the process than other railroads — budgetary and technical problems meant the system wasn’t installed where this week’s derailment occurred.

Here are four other technologies that could prevent transportation disasters:

Autonomous airliners

Like driverless cars, which proponents say can cut down on the number of road accidents, autonomous airplanes could help prevent commercial aviation disasters linked to human error or intentional pilot actions — such as April’s suspected pilot suicide aboard Germanwings Flight 9525. Experts have also suggested using networking technology to control autonomous planes via the ground, thus ensuring that if a plane needs to be manually flown in an emergency, no mistakes are made that could jeopardize passengers’ lives.

Platform screen doors

The long, costly process of incorporating safety systems has also been a factor in preventing fatal subway incidents. In New York City, home of the nation’s busiest subway system, a handful of deaths occur each year when commuters fall onto the tracks and train operators are unable to stop in time. While more recently-built subway systems have platform screen doors, New York City’s subways do not. Installing them would require an extensive and costly retrofitting.

Body detection technology

New York subway’s system has already begun testing other safety technologies like body detection systems. These systems feature thermal imaging, motion-sensing lasers and intelligent video cameras that can detect when a body or object is on the tracks, then they can relay that information to approaching trains.

Vehicle detection technology

That same idea is behind the vehicle-detection technology floated by safety experts when a Metro-North train slammed into an SUV that was on the tracks in February, killing five passengers on board. While sensors at crossings can’t always prevent train-car collisions — the conductor might not be able to stop in time, for instance — the NTSB has recommended these devices be installed in the wake of that incident.

MONEY Rip-offs

Are Airlines Gouging Travelers in the Wake of the Amtrak Disaster?

Vetta/Getty Images

The airline industry might appear to be living up to its (horribly greedy and opportunistic) reputation. The reality is a little more ambiguous.

The deadly train crash in Philadelphia has created chaos for travelers with plans to use the train service in the Northeast this week. The latest announcement from Amtrak indicates that its direct service between New York City and Philadelphia will remain suspended through Monday, May 18. That means anyone with plans to ride the rails to or from those cities, or trying to connect from Baltimore or Washington to anywhere north of Philadelphia, has had to look for options outside of Amtrak’s main line.

For many business travelers, the only other speedy, convenient, and altogether viable alternative to Amtrak is flying. And recent reports indicating that airlines have been gouging travelers with exorbitant last-minute flight prices in the Northeast confirm the perspective that airlines are opportunistic and greedy.

The (NY) Daily News reported that round-trip flights from New York-JFK to Washington-Dulles have been running between $700 to $1,100 this weekend (Friday departure, Sunday return), with some tickets hitting upwards of $1,700. These are seats in coach, mind you, on one-hour flights that normally cost $100 when purchased in advance, and perhaps $600 at the last minute.

“It’s opportunism,” George Hobica, who runs the airfare deal monitoring site Airfare Watchdog, told the Daily News. “The airlines know it’s a big business route and they can charge what they want.”

As of Friday morning, the least expensive round trip from JFK to Dulles that departs Friday and returns Sunday was priced at just under $1,100 on Delta Airlines, according to flight search aggregator Kayak.com.

Yet while it may look like there’s some price gouging occurring on this specific route between the New York and Washington, D.C. areas, airfares remain reasonable on other routes. Another quick search showed, for instance, that round trips between Newark airport and Dulles from Friday to Sunday are available at the last minute for $449 on United.

What seems to have happened is that there is very little availability on what few flights there are between JFK and Dulles this weekend, and as always, when flights are nearly sold out, airfare prices skyrocket. But with a little flexibility, it looks possible to book a flight in the Northeast without getting completely gouged—even at the last minute, even after the deadly Amtrak crash.

TIME Transportation

Amtrak Train Catches Fire in Milwaukee, No Injuries Reported

The train's engine caught fire

An Amtrak train traveling from Chicago caught fire as it rolled into Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon, but all passengers and crew were evacuated safely.

The fire, which the Milwaukee Fire Department described as minor, sparked in the train’s engine. Firefighters were notified about the fire at 12:06 p.m. and it had been contained by 12:54, local officials told TIME. Train traffic was halted in the area.

All occupants of the train were evacuated and placed on buses as the fire was being extinguished, according to Cassie Taylor of the Milwaukee Fire Department. There were no reported injuries from either passengers or crew.

Amtrak did not immediately return calls for comment.

The fire followed a much more serious Amtrak accident earlier this week, when a passenger train derailed on Amtrak’s northeast corridor, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 200. The train was traveling double the suggested speed limit shortly before the crash.

 

TIME Transportation

Amtrak Train That Derailed Sped Up Before Crash

8 dead as all passengers are believed accounted for

An eighth and final fatality in an Amtrak train derailment earlier this week was confirmed Thursday as officials provided more information about the train’s speed ahead of the accident and pledged to install safety technologies to prevent future ones.

Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board who is leading the investigation into Tuesday night’s derailment, gave reporters a more clear tick-tock of the train’s acceleration as speed was still considered a potentially major factor. Sixty-five seconds before the crash, Sumwalt said, an analysis of the train’s forward-looking visual recorder clocked the train at 70 miles per hour; 16 seconds before the crash, the train was going 100 mph.

Amtrak Northeast Regional 188 derailed northeast of Philadelphia Tuesday night en route to New York City from Washington, D.C. Investigators from the NTSB say the train reached 106 m.p.h. moments before the accident along an S-curve with a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. (On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that a lawyer for Amtrak dispatcher Bruce Phillips, who was injured in the crash, said his client filed what appears to be the first lawsuit to result from the derailment, with more than $150,000 sought in damages.)

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer announced Thursday afternoon that an eighth body had been pulled from the train wreckage just hours earlier, bringing the total number of deaths to eight. Mayor Michael Nutter said that officials now believe that all 243 passengers have been accounted for.

Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman also reiterated the company’s commitment to install “positive train control” along the Northeast Corridor, a technology designed to slow and even stop speeding trains. Later, in an interview that aired on CNN, Sumwalt said: “We do believe that positive train control could have prevented this accident.”

Engineer under scrutiny

The investigation has now focused on the train’s engineer, 32-year-old Brandon Bostian of Queens, N.Y. Bostian received multiple head and leg injuries in the accident, and Mayor Nutter confirmed that he was interviewed by the Philadelphia Police Department while hospitalized. “It was a pretty short interview in which he apparently indicated that he did not want to be interviewed,” Mayor Nutter said.

On Thursday, the NTSB tweeted that Bostian had agreed to an interview by its investigators.

So far, Bostian has reportedly given a blood sample to determine whether there were any illegal substances in his system and has also turned over his cell phone. Robert Goggin, Bostian’s lawyer, says his client met with police for five hours. Neither the police nor Bostian have commented on that meeting, but Goggin says the engineer has no memory of the crash. Goggin has also told CNN that his client had not been on his phone during the accident and says the engineer has had no significant accidents in his time with Amtrak.

All eight victims have been identified: Jim Gaines, 48, a video software architect with the Associated Press; Justin Zemser, 20, a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman; Rachel Jacobs, CEO of education technology company ApprenNet; Abid Gilani, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo; Derrick Griffith, a dean at Medgar Evers Colege; and Bob Gildersleeve, 45, a vice president at Ecolab, a hygiene and energy technologies company; Giuseppe Piras, who Italian media said worked in the olive oil business; and Laura Finamore, 47, who was reported to have been going back to New York following a memorial service for the mother of a friend.

Better safety controls needed

Many are now questioning the lack of safety controls to slow speeding trains along the Northeast Corridor. According to Amtrak, full installation of positive track control was scheduled to be completed along the heavily trafficked corridor by December 2015, according to the January/February 2015 issue of Amtrak Inc., a company publication. NTSB’s Sumwalt has said that PTC could have prevented Tuesday’s accident.

“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” Sumwalt said. He has also told CNN that a “key question” is to figure out why it hadn’t been used, adding: “Why was it in other areas … on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but why was it not here?”

The likely answer is cost. Most estimates place the price tag at $10 billion to install the technology nationwide. But finding enough federal money to install PTC everywhere will be difficult. Just hours after the accident, a House subcommittee voted down a bill that would’ve increased funding for the beleaguered train service.

For those looking to travel along the corridor, service will likely be limited for several days. There’s currently no service between New York City and Philadelphia, and limited service is running between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., and New York City and Boston. Boardman, Amtrak’s CEO, said the company expects to have full service running through Philadelphia by Tuesday.

TIME Transportation

8th Body Found as Focus of Amtrak Derailment Shifts to Engineer

Philadelphia mayor called engineer "reckless and irresponsible"

Officials have accounted for all the passengers and crew aboard the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia this week, after finding an eighth body amid the wreckage on Thursday morning.

The announcement came as the investigation into the crash’s cause has zeroed in on the train’s engineer, who sustained a concussion in the accident that left at least eight people dead and 200 people injured. The engineer, Brandon Bostian, has “absolutely no recollection of the incident,” his lawyer said Robert Goggin said on Good Morning America Thursday.

Investigators have determined the train was traveling at more than 100 mph when it crashed going through a curve in the tracks, where the speed limit was 50 mph.

Bostian, a 32-year-old Queens resident, was treated and released from Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center on Wednesday, NBC News reports. Records from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen indicate he has worked at Amtrak since April 2009.

Bostian voluntarily gave a blood sample to authorities, as well as his cell phone, Goggin told ABC News.

In a news conference Wednesday, Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the train’s engineer had applied the brakes at about the time it was entering a left-hand curve and that preliminary data showed it was traveling at 106 mph, more than twice the speed limit for that section of track. “You’re supposed to enter the curve at 50 miles per hour,” he told reporters near the scene.

The Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188, which was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members to New York City, derailed near the site of a 1943 accident in that left dozens dead. Sumwalt, who had earlier said his team had not yet met with the engineer, said data recorders from the train would be further analyzed in Washington, D.C., where the train originated Tuesday, and that he expected investigators to remain at the site for about a week.

On Wednesday evening, with excessive speed rising as an apparent main factor in the derailment, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter lashed out against the engineer.

“Clearly he was reckless and irresponsible in his actions” he told CNN. “I don’t know what was going on with him. I don’t know what was going on in the cab, but there’s really no excuse that could be offered, literally, unless he had a heart attack.”

Sumwalt took a more cautious approach in commenting on the engineer, saying “we want to get to the facts before we start making judgments.”

TIME Transportation

Navy Midshipman, AP Employee Among 7 Amtrak Crash Victims

A Wells Fargo executive, CUNY dean and technology company CEO also died in the crash

Five of the seven people killed aboard an Amtrak train that derailed north of Philadelphia Tuesday were identified Wednesday evening, with an AP employee, a CUNY dean and a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman among the victims.

A Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo and the CEO of Philadelphia-based education software company AppreNet were also confirmed dead in the crash.

The Associated Press reported that video software architect Jim Gaines, one of the news agency’s own employees, died in the accident.

Gaines—an award-winning software designer who had worked at the agency since 1998—was on his way from Washington, D.C. to his home in Plainsboro, N.J., according to the AP.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt sent employees an e-mail Wednesday describing Gaines as leaving behind a “legacy of professionalism and critical accomplishment, kindness and humor.

AppreNet chief executive Rachel Jacobs had been returning to her home in New York when she was killed in the derailment, her family confirmed on Wednesday. In a statement, the family said Jacobs was “a wonderful mother, sister, daughter, wife and friend,” and that they “cannot imagine life without her”.

Justin Zemser, a 20-year-old midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, was on leave and heading home to Brooklyn on the ill-fated train. Zemsar was a sophomore at the academy and a wide receiver for its sprint football team, described as a “bright, talented and patriotic young man” by a New York City Council member he interned with.

“He was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful,” Zemser’s mother Susan told reporters outside her home. “Everybody looked up to my son and there are just no other words I could say.”

The fourth victim was identified as Wells Fargo executive Abid Gilani, whose death was confirmed by company spokeswoman Elise Wilkinson.

Officials at the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn confirmed late Wednesday that Derrick Griffiths, dean of student affairs at the institution, was also killed in the crash. Griffith, 42, served students and the community “with passion” and was a “champion for the downtrodden”, the college said in a statement.

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