Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate
Deadly Amtrak wreck blamed on distracted engineerAssociated Press Published 3:12 pm, Tuesday, May 17, 2016
WASHINGTON — The speeding Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia last year, killing eight people, most likely ran off the rails because the engineer was distracted by word of a nearby commuter train getting hit by a rock, federal investigators concluded Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board also put some of the blame on the railroad industry’s decades-long delay in installing Positive Train Control, equipment that can automatically slow trains that are going over the speed limit.
Engineer Brandon Bostian was apparently so focused on the rock-throwing he heard about over the radio that he lost track of where he was and accelerated full-throttle to 106 mph as he went into a sharp curve with a 50 mph limit, investigators said at an NTSB hearing convened to pinpoint the cause of the May 12, 2015, tragedy. About 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured.
“He went, in a matter of seconds, from distraction to disaster,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said.
Bostian, who has been suspended without pay since the crash for speeding, did not attend the hearing. He and his lawyer did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment.
Had Positive Train Control been in use along the stretch of track, “we would not be here today,” said Ted Turpin, an NTSB investigator.
“Unless PTC is implemented soon,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart warned, “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 rail accident.”
Amtrak noted that Positive Train Control is already in place on most of its portion of the Northeast Corridor and that it has also installed inward-facing video cameras on locomotives.
The problem of people throwing rocks at trains is so common that train crews have a term for it: “getting rocked.” But it is a danger railroads are almost powerless to stop. No one was ever arrested in the rock-throwing in Philadelphia.
Investigators said they believe Bostian was accelerating because he thought he had already passed the sharp Frankford Junction curve. After the curve, the tracks open up into a straightaway where the speed limit is 110 mph.
During the investigation, authorities ruled out cell phone use on Bostian’s part, as well as drugs or alcohol.