NTSB to release text of interview with Amtrak 188 engineer

Brandon Bostian's lawyer says the engineer does not recall the crash and was not on his phone.
Brandon Bostian's lawyer says the engineer does not recall the crash and was not on his phone.
Posted: February 01, 2016

WASHINGTON - Federal investigators will open a new window into the deadly Amtrak Train 188 derailment in Philadelphia when they release a trove of documents Monday, including interview transcripts with the engineer.

Those interviews could provide the most detailed view yet of Brandon Bostian, the engineer running the train in May when it sped to 106 m.p.h. - more than twice the speed limit for an approaching curve - before hurtling off the tracks in Frankford Junction, killing eight and injuring more than 200.

Bostian's lawyer has said the engineer does not remember the crash. Bostian did not agree to a formal interview with police, and he and his attorney, Robert S. Goggin III, have said little since the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board docket will also include black box data, interviews with first responders and crew members, and images from the scene.

The release, expected to run to more than 2,000 pages, will not include conclusions about what went wrong, or why the train was going so fast as it reached a curve where the limit is 50 m.p.h.

Opening the docket will be the safety board's most significant public action on the crash since June.

Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall described this step as "just the facts."

"This is the final step before you move into the analysis," he said.

The release will include the bulk of the information that investigators will use to try to draw conclusions about what happened and what can be done to make travel safer and crashes less deadly.

That analysis is expected to conclude this spring.

The NTSB board will have to vote to accept both the probable cause of the crash and any safety recommendations.

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart has told Congress there were no anomalies with the track, brakes, or locomotive.

Much of the attention Monday is likely to focus on the safety board's interviews with Bostian, the 32-year-old engineer.

The train sped up before reaching the fateful curve, investigators have said, but there has been no conclusion as to why.

Bostian was not using his cellphone for calls, texting, or data at the time, the NTSB has said, though officials did not rule out other uses - such as an app. The board was analyzing Bostian's phone data.

His lawyer has said the phone was in Bostian's bag and his client was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Goggin could not be reached for comment last week.

For months fellow engineers and some in Congress have speculated that Bostian simply lost track of where he was, and accelerated, thinking he was already beyond the curve.

"What it sounds like to me is situational awareness," Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said at a hearing in June.

He expressed exasperation that Amtrak doesn't use the kind of GPS systems - common now in cellphone apps and cars - that can show users where they are.

Instead, engineers memorize their routes, speed limits and other rules, with help from signals in the locomotive cab and on the side of the track.

Shortly after the crash, Bostian's lawyer said: "He remembers driving the train. He remembers going through that area generally, has absolutely no recollection of the incident or anything unusual.

"The next thing he recalls is being thrown around, coming to, finding his bag, getting his cellphone and dialing 911," Goggin said last year.

Bostian had a lifelong love of trains, had worked for Amtrak for a decade, since 2010 as an engineer. A friend described him as "in shock" in the days after the crash.

Bostian graduated from a high school near Memphis in 2001 and studied journalism for a time at the University of Missouri-Columbia before turning to accounting, and then pursuing his work on the rails.

NTSB officials have previously said that Bostian had cooperated with investigators and that in a 90-minute interview told them he did not feel sick or tired before the wreck.

An NTSB investigator had said Bostian's train had "technical problems" on its first leg, delaying its arrival in Washington about 30 minutes. That delay shortened his downtime before the return north, and there were reports of Bostian's being "frazzled," though NTSB officials have downplayed that characterization.

"There was no issue," an NTSB spokesman said last year. "If he would have felt rushed or stressed, that would certainly have" come out.

Along with the interviews with Bostian, the docket will include details of his schedule that day and work history.

The docket will also include investigators' research into any mechanical or technical issues.

Among the other issues covered in the documents will be Amtrak's safety measures on the dangerous curve. An automatic breaking system had been installed on the southbound side of the tracks - but not on the northbound side, where the crash occurred.

Amtrak officials have said the speed limit on the northbound side was low enough that trains should not have been going fast enough to derail. They did not expect that an engineer might accelerate beyond the speed limit on approach.

Other topics covered could include research into the safety of Amtrak cars and the emergency response process. Each could form the basis for new safety recommendations later this year.

jtamari@phillynews.com

@JonathanTamari

www.philly.com/capitolinq

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