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NTSB Says Distracted Engineer Caused Deadly Amtrak Derailment


Much of the blame for an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia last year appears to rest with a single engineer. That's the conclusion of a federal investigation into the accident which killed eight people and injured dozens. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The National Transportation Safety Board investigation shows Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian likely was distracted by radio chatter over another nearby train that was hit by a rock. It was stopped. The engineer of that train was injured, and Bostian was trying to pass safely. Then he made a mistake, accelerating into a curve instead of slowing down.


ROBERT SUMWALT: He went, in a matter of seconds, from distraction to disaster.

BRADY: NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt was among those who seemed sympathetic to Bostian, saying humans make mistakes. The board says technology called Positive Train Control which would automatically slow down a train could have prevented this accident. PTC is in place on much of Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor. Congress gave railroads elsewhere more time to install it. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart wants that done as soon as possible.


CHRISTOPHER HART: Unless PTC is implemented soon, I'm very concerned that we're going to be back in this room again, hearing investigators detail how technology that we have recommended for more than 45 years could have prevented yet another fatal accident.

BRADY: Brandon Bostian's attorney didn't respond to NPR's request for an interview. The NTSB concluded drugs, alcohol, fatigue or cell phone use were not a factor in the crash. There were other problems, though, including windows that dislodged when train cars slid along the ground. Dana Sanzo with the NTSB says those windows led to half of the eight deaths.


DANA SANZO: Because the windows separated from the cars, four passenger died because they were ejected from the third car.

BRADY: The NTSB already has suggested upgrading those windows. The board also said Philadelphia needs to do a better job coordinating the process of transporting the injured to hospitals, something the city says it's working on. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.