Investigators Also Interview Engineer Driving Train At Time Of Wreck


PHILADELPHIA (CBSNewYork/AP) — An assistant conductor said she thought she heard an Amtrak train engineer say his train had been hit by projectiles before the derailment this week, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.

The FBI has now been asked to join the investigation, according to NTSB member Robert Sumwalt. Meanwhile, exclusive surveillance video from the crash scene shows the train flying by, high voltage wires snapping, and the cars flying off the rails.

The NTSB on Friday interviewed engineer Brandon Bostian, as well as two assistant conductors who were on the Amtrak Train No. 188 from Washington, D.C. to Penn Station, which wrecked in Philadelphia Tuesday night. The train accelerated from 70 mph to over 100 mph in the minute before it went into a sharp bend.

The 39-year-old assistant conductor, who had been working in the café car, said about three or four minutes after leaving the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, she heard the engineer talking to an engineer from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Sumwalt said.

Watch: NTSB Update On Investigation Into Amtrak Derailment

The assistant conductor recalled that the SEPTA engineer had reported to a train dispatcher that his train had either been hit by a rock or shot at, and that his SEPTA train had been left with a broken windshield and had been placed in an emergency stop.

The assistant conductor also said she heard Bostian say something about his own train being struck by an object, Sumwalt said.

A spokeswoman for the SEPTA said Wednesday that the commuter train was hit by the projectile about 20 minutes before the Amtrak derailment up the same track, CBS Philly reported.

A SEPTA commuter train was hit by a projectile in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 12. (Credit: CBS2)

A SEPTA commuter train was hit by a projectile in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 12. (Credit: CBS2)

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said they don’t know what the projectile was. It broke the engineer’s window around 9:25 p.m. Tuesday near SEPTA’s North Philadelphia station. No injuries were reported in that incident.

Williams says the Trenton-bound commuter train was stopped and the incident was being investigated when the Amtrak derailment happened about 3 1/2 miles away.

The NTSB investigation has not confirmed that any projectile hit the Amtrak train, but the FBI will join the investigation, Sumwalt said Friday. The NTSB did see some suspicious damage to the lower left-hand portion of the windshield of the Amtrak train, which the FBI will examine, Sumwalt said.

NTSB investigators also said they are aware of reports that a third train, Amtrak Acela 2173, was struck by an object on Tuesday night, CBS News reported. Amtrak declined to comment and referred questions to the NTSB.

An Amtrak Acela train apparently hit by a projectile in Philadelphia shortly after another train derailed. (via Twitter)

An Amtrak Acela train apparently hit by a projectile in Philadelphia shortly after another train derailed. (via Twitter)

The NTSB did not speculate how the possible flying debris could lead the train that derailed to speed up to 106 mph. But it did raise some questions about whether the engineer might have been distracted, panicked or even wounded, Schneider reported.

Meanwhile, engineer Bostian told the NTSB that he had no recollection of anything beyond going into the curve before the derailment. But he said he felt fully qualified and comfortable with the equipment and had no problems handling the train, Sumwalt said.

“When asked, he demonstrated a very good working knowledge of the territory,” Sumwalt said.

Bostian said he did not feel fatigued at the time of the derailment, and did not report any illness, Sumwalt said.

Bostian works five days a week on the Northeast Regional Route – driving the train from New York to Washington, D.C. and back, Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said Bostian asked the NTSB to contact him again if investigators need anything else.

The NTSB also interviewed another assistant conductor – a 35-year-old man who was in the seventh and rearmost passenger car. He had about 40 people in his car, and said he saw the interior seats disconnect as the car derailed.

On Thursday, the NTSB said that the locomotive’s video camera showed that in the last minute or so before the derailment, the Washington-to-New York train accelerated rapidly as it approached a curve where the speed limit is 50 mph.

The engineer applied the emergency brakes seconds before the wreck, but it was too late, investigators have said. NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said it is unclear whether the speed was increased manually by the engineer.

So far, investigators have found no problems with the track, the signals or the locomotive, and the train was running on time, Sumwalt said.

‘TRULY HEAVY HEARTS’ AT AMTRAK

The final railcars from accident were removed Friday. Meanwhile, Amtrak chief executive officer Joseph Boardman said in a letter on the railroad’s blog Thursday that Amtrak “takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.”

PHOTOS: Amtrak Train Derails In Philadelphia

The derailment Tuesday night killed eight people and injured more than 200.

“With truly heavy hearts, we mourn those who died. Their loss leaves holes in the lives of their families and communities,” Boardman wrote.

He said the railroad’s goal is “to fully understand what happened and how we can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.”

First responders were talking Friday about the uncertainty and chaos of the rescue recovery effort Tuesday night.

“When I picked up the phone, it was controlled chaos. They were trying to give me a whole lot of information but the info was moving too fast,” said Officer Murphy. “I knew we had an event that was going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and multiple agency cooperation.”

The last wrecked cars were pulled from the scene and were being taken on flatbed trucks to an Amtrak installation in Delaware for further examination.

Amtrak service on the heavily traveled stretch between New York and Philadelphia is expected to be suspended through Monday while the tracks and other equipment are repaired, the railroad said. Earlier, Amtrak said limited service was scheduled to resume on Monday.

SCHUMER BLASTS ‘IGNORANCE’ OF CUTTING AMTRAK FUNDING

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Friday the derailment should serve as a wake-up call.

“Congress cannot tell Amtrak to drop dead,” Blumenthal said.

“We can’t change the past. We can’t bring back the lives of these eight wonderful people who were lost,” added Schumer at a news conference outside Penn Station. “But we can and should prioritize rail safety now, so that their loss is not in vain.”

There is a system that could have prevented the derailment by automatically slowing down the train. The system, called positive train control, is in the process of being installed.

According to reports, Congress failed to provide railroads access to the wireless frequencies the system needs, 1010 WINS reported. That left Amtrak to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies.

The senators said the economic cost is startling – with the cost to the Tri-State Area economy for lost Amtrak service amounting to $100 million per day, the senators said. By comparison, they said the cost of installing train control would be $150 million, one time only, CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.

“It makes no sense,” Schumer told Kramer. “If there was ever a move that was penny wise and pound foolish, it was not implementing PTC, because the amount of loss when the train has to be shut down far exceeds the total cost.”

In addition to PTC law, the lawmakers want resources to upgrade railroad crossings — which came into question at the Valhalla Metro-North Railroad accident in February. They also called for adding cameras to the inside and outside of engineers’ cabs and investing in infrastructure to upgrade train tracks, signals and cars.

There was also heated criticism of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for saying it was “stupid” to say more railroad funding could have prevented the Amtrak crash.

“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?” Boehner said.

At the news conference, Blumenthal replied: “There is no such thing as a stupid question. There’s only a stupid answer, and Boehner did both.”

Added Schumer: “Speaker Boehner may be in the caboose, but a lot of the other colleagues are moving to the front cars and understanding the need for funding. He’s really become an outlier.”

QUESTIONS CONTINUE TO SURROUND ENGINEER

Separately, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said it is investigating and will decide whether to bring charges.

Bostian was the only one in the locomotive steering the train as it approached the severe curve at Frankford Junction, a few miles northeast of downtown Philadelphia.

Echoing what Bostian told the NTSB, Bostian’s lawyer, Robert Goggin, told ABC News that his client suffered a concussion in the wreck and had “absolutely no recollection whatsoever” of the crash but had not been using his cellphone and had not been drinking or using drugs.

“He remembers coming into the curve,” Goggin said. “He remembers attempting to reduce speed, and thereafter he was knocked out.

He said Bostian’s cellphone was off and stored in his bag before the accident, as required. Goggin said his client “cooperated fully” with police and told them “everything that he knew,” immediately, consented to a blood test and surrendered his cellphone.

Bostian, 32, graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management in 2006. He became an Amtrak engineer in 2010, four years after landing a job as a conductor, according to his LinkedIn profile. He lives in Queens.

As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, friends said Bostian was living his dream. He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where his favorite pastime was watching train cars roll by.

“He would go on vacation and bring back subway maps,” Stefanie McGee, a friend in Bostian’s hometown of Bartlett, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis. “He would go places with his family, and he would talk about the trains instead of the places.”

He started work as a train engineer for Amtrak in 2010, and acknowledged the rigors of the job.

“He did tell me that it was a challenging route. He told me that it’s hard to stay right on schedule all the time, because he wants to make sure that he takes the time to perform all of the safety requirements each and every trip,” said Bostian’s friend James Weir.

Will Gust, a college fraternity brother of Bostian’s, said he had “nothing but good things to say about Brandon.”

“He is a very conscientious person, one of the most upstanding individuals that I know, just a really good-quality person,” Gust said.

Weir talked to Bostian when he was in the hospital, treated for head and leg injuries.

“He’s very distraught. He’s very upset, and he’s very sorry,” Weir said. “I don’t think there’s any foul play or anything like that. He was never one to do drugs.”

A man reported to be Bostian posted extensively on a train enthusiast website called TrainOrders.com. He wrote about the importance of following speed restrictions, and the need for greater protections on the railroads – particularly positive train control that can automatically slow speeds on trains.

“The reality is that they have had nearly a hundred years for the opportunity to implement some sort of system to mitigate human error, but with a few notable exceptions have failed to do so,” he apparently wrote.

JUSTIN ZEMSER LAID TO REST

The first funeral for the victims was held Friday morning. Services for Justin Zemser, a 20-year-old midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, took place on Long Island.

Six of the injured remained in critical condition but were expected to pull through.

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