Amtrak Engineer Not Using Phone in Deadly Crash: NTSB - NBC Bay Area
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Amtrak Engineer Not Using Phone in Deadly Crash: NTSB

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    Federal investigators say the engineer on the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia was not talking on his phone at the time of the disaster. (Published Wednesday, June 10, 2015)

    Brandon Bostian, the engineer of the doomed Amtrak 188 Northeast Regional train that derailed in Philadelphia in May, killing eight people and injuring dozens more, was not using his cellphone while he manned the train, a National Transportation Safety Board report revealed Wednesday.

    "Analysis of the phone records does not indicate that any calls, texts, or data usage occurred during the time the engineer was operating the train. Amtrak’s records confirm that the engineer did not access the train’s Wi-Fi system while he was operating the locomotive," an NTSB news released issued Wednesday morning read.

    Bostian's phone was examined by investigators in the NTSB laboratory in Washington, D.C., the release said. Authorities said Bostian cooperated, providing them with the passcode to the cellphone to allow investigators to access the data without having to contact the phone manufacturer.

    An investigation into the derailment in Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood found that the New York-bound train was traveling 106 mph -- 56 mph higher than the posted speed limit -- as it entered a dangerous curve at Frankford Junction. The brakes were applied with maximum force just before the derailment, the investigation found, but the train was still moving faster than 100 mph as it veered off the tracks.

    The finding that Bostian was not using his phone at the time of the derailment has heightened the mystery surrounding exactly what caused the accident.

    Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who has filed lawsuits on behalf of some of the victims of the derailment, said the fact that Bostian was not on his cellphone "raises even more questions about why he would recklessly operate this train at an outrageously dangerous speed."

    "Nothing about the NTSB’s conclusions today changes the fact that the engineer's actions were inexcusable as were the deliberate decisions of Amtrak to not implement available life-saving automatic train control systems," Mongeluzzi said in a statement.

    NTSB officials said later Wednesday that being unable to determine the cause of an accident is rare, and that they anticipate the investigation will take a full year to complete.

    "We still have a great deal of work to do in order to understand all of the factors that may have contributed to the accident," officials said.  "We will use all of the information that we develop in the course of the investigation to come to the probable cause of the accident."

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office is conducting a separate investigation into the derailment, declined to comment on Wednesday, saying the investigation is ongoing.

    "We will turn over every stone until we find out what happened," Williams said.

    The crash, which turned the cars closest to the front of the train into a pile of twisted metal, killed eight people -- Derrick Griffith, 42, a dean at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York; Rachel Jacobs, 39, the CEO of Philadelphia-based company ApprenNet and a mother of a toddler; Abid Gilani, 55, who worked for Wells Fargo; Justin Zemser, 20, a Naval Academy midshipman; Jim Gaines, 48, a father and Associated Press video software architect; Bob Gildersleeve, 45, a father and vice president of Ecolab; Laura Finamore, 47, a senior account director at Cushman & Wakefield; and Giuseppe Piras, 41, a wine and oil executive from Sardinia, Italy.

    More than 200 others were injured, and four remain hospitalized at Temple University Hospital. A number of lawsuits have been filed against Amtrak by injured people and their families.

    After the crash, Bostian, 32, an Amtrak engineer for about three years, told investigators he had no recollection of the crash.

    His attorney, Robert Goggin, has said he kept his cellphone in his bag and used it only to call 9-1-1 after the crash.

    "The next thing he recalls is being thrown around, coming to, finding his bag, getting his cellphone and dialing 9-1-1," Goggin said the day after the derailment.

    The NTSB's Robert Sumwalt said Bostian worked five days a week, making a daily roundtrip from New York to Washington, D.C., and that he had a "very good working knowledge" of the route and its various speed restrictions.

    Sumwalt said Bostian spoke with investigators May 15 and did not report feeling tired or sick while he operated the train.

    On Tuesday, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a safety advisory listing several recommendations for steps passenger rail lines should take to enhance speed control of trains. The FRA said it would enforce a Dec. 31, 2015 deadline set by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 for intercity and commuter rail lines to install positive train control, a mechanism that helps to regulate train speeds.

    NTSB officials were expected to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee about train safety Wednesday afternoon. One focus of the hearing is positive train control.