Survivors of Amtrak 188 crash still seek answers

Posted at 7:03 PM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2021-06-16 16:07:28-04

Thousands of pages of documents and evidence related to the Amtrak 188 derailment have been released, but there's one key piece of information still missing. Investigators have not yet said why the engineer operating the passenger train was traveling more than 100 miles per hour when it crashed.

Brandon Bostian was the engineer of Amtrak 188 traveling from Washington D.C. to New York on May 12, 2015. It was sometime after 9 p.m. in Philadelphia that the train derailed after it entered a curve. Eight people were killed, 200 others were hospitalized.

Crash reports show that Bostian was operating the train at 106 miles per hour in an area where the speed was restricted to 50 miles per hour.

Investigators looked into any mechanical or outside factors that could explain why the train was traveling that fast.

"There were no problems with the engine, no problem with the tracks, no problem with the signals, or the switches or anything having to deal with the speed signs or any other signage leading up to the crash scene," said Keith S. Franz, an attorney representing several crash survivors.

Human error, however, has not been ruled out, and Franz his own theories about what happened.

“It will be because this engineer lost situational awareness, was for some reason distracted, or did not appreciate the danger that was upcoming or possibly that he had fallen asleep,” Franz said.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is expected to conclude their investigation next week and determine the probable cause in the accident. While it'll provide more answers for survivors, it'll do little to alleviate the pain some are feeling.

See also: NTSB to give final report on Philadelphia train derailment next week

"I have pain 24/7. I have problems breathing because almost my entire rib cage was shattered, it didn't heal properly. I have significantly less volume for my lungs to expand," said Robert Hewett, a crash survivor.

A number of people are now seeking damages through lawsuits filed in federal court in Philadelphia. Congress established a total compensation potential for all victims and set the limit to $295 million.

Litigation is expected to take several years, and in the meantime, Amtrak has already made some improvements.

Last December they finished installing the positive train control system on the 456-mile northeast corridor. The technology is designed to slow down trains traveling too fast.

“It's a combination of GPS locators and transmitters in the tracks that will keep a proper buffer between trains and will slow down or even stop a train, overruling the engineer's action on the train if there's about to be a collision or a mishap,” Franz said.

It's progress that's expected to prevent another tragedy.

“I remember being thrown out of my seat, hitting the ceiling, the luggage racks, the seats, right before I lost consciousness. I crashed head on with another gentleman and I woke up laying on a pile of rocks," Hewett said.

The NTSB will meet next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C.

If the engineer is found to be at fault, he's not likely to face any criminal charges. According to Franz, while there may have been negligence, there's been no evidence of criminal conduct. Officials have previously said that Bostian wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol and that his cell phone had been turned off.