Mobile Phone Use Ruled Out as Cause of Amtrak Derailment

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Amtrak Derailment
First responders near a derailed Amtrak train in north Philadelphia, May 12, 2015. Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Amtrak engineer at the controls of the speeding passenger train that derailed in Philadelphia last month wasn’t using his mobile phone prior to the fatal accident, investigators have determined.

After matching the engineer’s phone records to his work schedule, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded engineer Brian Bostian didn’t violate Amtrak policy prohibiting distractions from personal electronics, according to a statement released Wednesday. He also didn’t access the train’s Wi-Fi system while operating the locomotive, the NTSB said.

The report means investigators still have no definitive answer to why Bostian’s train reached a speed of 106 miles (171 kilometers) per hour, more than twice the speed limit, shortly before hitting a curve and jumping the tracks on May 12. The emergency brakes were applied seconds before the train derailed.

Eight of the 238 passengers were killed.

The report was released ahead of a congressional hearing where NTSB Vice Chairwoman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr is scheduled to testify. The crash raised questions about the need for more automated controls, such as expansion of a system that can automatically slow a train going too fast into a curve.

Phone Records

Bostian, who suffered a head injury, has told investigators he doesn’t recall what happened prior to the crash. Bostian gave investigators his phone’s password, which allowed them to access data on the device without having to seek a subpoena, according to the NTSB.

Investigators are still attempting to determine whether the phone was in “airplane mode” or was switched off during the trip. They have been examining the phone’s operating system, which contains more than 400,000 files, according to the NTSB.

The investigation will continue into the crash, which Amtrak estimates the crash cost more than $9.2 million, according to a preliminary NTSB report released June 2.

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