Amtrak has concluded its investigation into the fatal train derailment that occurred on May 12, 2015. The trainwreck killed four people and injured over 200 passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) led the investigation and determined that the Amtrak engineer, Brandon Bostian, caused the derailment as a result of being distracted by information about another train. The conclusion, however, is not providing closure for the injured passengers or families who lost loved ones.
The NTSB has concluded that Bostian became distracted when hearing of another train being hit by a rock. His concern for the other train caused him to accelerate his train to over a 100 mph, in an area where the speed limit was reduced to 50 mph. This increase in speed caused the train heading from Washington D.C. to New York, to take a curve much too fast and resulted in the tragic derailment.
Amtrak released all the evidence available to investigators to the public on May 12, 2016. They ruled out the possibility of equipment failure, cell phone use, drug and alcohol use or any other suspects. The company does not have video inside the compartment with the engineers of its trains, therefore, investigators reported there was no other evidence to determine Bostian’s behavior before the derailment other than being distracted by the radio, according to the word of the engineer.
While many victims were present during the release of the findings, neither the Amtrak engineer nor his lawyers were present. After the determination, many victims left expressing shock and dismay to the media. Lawyers for the victims later described the NTSB’s decision as hard to believe. Judy Livingston, a lawyer who represents the family of a Naval officer who died on his way home to New York, criticized the findings saying there is no evidence to support distraction as having caused the derailment, except for the engineer’s word. The response by the NTSB spokesman, Christopher Hart, said the conclusion that the Amtrak engineer was distracted is “the best they could come up with.”
Amtrak has already taken responsibility for the wreckage that claimed eight lives and 200 casualties. The liability for the company has a federal cap of $295 million, which could become exhausted due to the number of victims involved. While the company has accepted liability, there is still no determination on whether criminal charges will be levied against Bostian or Amtrak. The determination of the engineer being distracted as a cause of the derailment has no precise definition concerning how authorities will respond. There is a question of whether the company should have updated GPS technology to override the possibility of human error.
Since the wreck, the company has installed the Positive Train Control technology along the tracks where the accident took place. The technology consists of a GPS system that slows trains at key areas to avoid collisions. The technology could have potentially prevented the accident, despite the engineer’s distraction.
It is unclear if authorities will address criminal charges. What is clear, is that the victims and their families are not pleased with the determination by NTSB. Neither Bostian nor his lawyers have commented on the findings that the Amtrak engineer’s distraction is what caused the derailment.
By Gichele Cocrelle
Edited by Jeanette Smith & Cathy Milne
ABC News: Amtrak Victims: Investigation findings hard to believe
CSMonitor.com: How technology could have prevented Philly Amtrak disaster
6ABC: Amtrak engineer went from distraction to disaster in seconds
Photo by NTSB Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Common License