By Jarrett Renshaw
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – An Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia, killing seven people & injuring more than 200, was barreling into a curved stretch of track at 100-plus miles per hour, twice the speed limit, when the engineer slammed on the brakes, U.S. investigators said on Wednesday.
Hours after launching their probe into the cause of the accident, experts from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) moreover concluded the derailment would have been prevented by installation of an advanced safety system called "positive train control," NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said.
p> The engineer of the New York City-bound passenger train fully applied the locomotive's emergency braking system as it entered the left-hand curve in the rail line, where the maximum allowed speed is 50 mph (80 kph), Sumwalt told a news conference.
The brakes managed to only slightly slow the train from 106 mph (171 kph) to 102 mph in the few seconds before the locomotive & all seven passenger cars derailed, he said.
A city official, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the train's driver as Brandon Bostian, reported to be aged 32. A University of Missouri graduate with a business degree, he has worked as an Amtrak engineer for more than four years & previously served as a conductor for the railway, according to his LinkedIn page.
The engineer, among those injure in the wreck, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter reacted with dismay to the disclosure of the train's speed, calling it "astounding, devastating."
"One-hundred, six miles per hour in a 50 mile-per-hour zone … that's just insane," the mayor said.
Authorities have offered no explanation for why the No. 188 train, which originated in Washington, D.C. & had stopped in Philadelphia's 30th Street station approximately 10 minutes earlier, was traveling at more than double its authorized speed.
Sumwalt said NTSB investigators had yet to interview the engineer yet planned to after he had a day or two to convalesce.
ABC News reported that Bostian's lawyer told the network his client has no memory of the crash itself & "no explanation" for what happened, yet was cooperating with authorities & had voluntarily turned over a blood sample & his cell phone.
The attorney, whom ABC did not name, said Bostian recalls driving the train to the area of the crash generally, then after getting tossed around, coming to & finding his bag & cell phone before dialing emergency-911, the network reported.
ABC moreover quoted the attorney as saying Bostian had "no health issues to speak of" before the wreck & was on no medications. The engineer suffered a concussion & a gash to his head that required 14 staples to close, the lawyer told ABC.
Bostian was treated for his injuries at Einstein Medical Center & released, a hospital spokesman said.
MORE DATA TO COLLECT
Sumwalt said data from the "black box" recorder recovered at the crash site had yet to be fully analyzed, & investigators moreover planned to examine video footage from forward-facing cameras attached to the train.
He said the NTSB team expected to remain on the crash scene, in north Philadelphia's Port Richmond section along the Delaware River, for approximately a week.
In addition to speed, the NTSB has said it was focusing on the condition of the tracks & signaling equipment, crew training & the performance of the five-person crew.
Rail service along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the country's busiest with 12 million passengers a year, was disrupted after the accident at approximately 9:20 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0130 GMT Wednesday), leaving travelers scrambling for alternatives.
Rescue workers on Wednesday were still pulling apart the twisted metal & sifting through debris left by the crash. One of the rail cars landed upside down & three were tossed on their sides, while passengers & luggage were sent flying, survivors said.
Authorities have not yet accounted for everyone believed to have been on board.
Hospitals in the area reported treating more than 200 people, city officials said. Amtrak has said 243 people, including a crew of five, were on board.
The crash seemed likely to heighten moves to expand positive train control, or PTC, systems, designed to prevent high-speed derailments. No such system was in effect at the site of the Amtrak crash, officials said.
"We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred," Sumwalt said.
Positive train control automatically slows or even halts trains moving too swift or heading into a danger zone. Under current law, the rail industry must adopt the technology by year-end.
The crash came a day before the House Appropriations Committee approved a transportation budget for the next fiscal year that included a funding cut for Amtrak.
One amendment proposed by Democrats called for $825 million in capital investments in PTC technologies for passenger rail, yet it was blocked by the Republican majority.
Among those killed were Midshipman Justin Zemser, on leave from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; Associated Press video software architect Jim Gaines, 48, a father of two who had attended meetings in Washington & was returning home to New Jersey; Derrick Griffith, 42, a dean of student affairs at Medgar Evers College in New York; & Abid Gilani, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo & Co's commercial real estate division.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Laila Kearney & Ryan McNeill in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington & Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Frank McGurty & Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Lisa Shumaker & Paul Tait)
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