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Amtrak driver phone records probe

Published 21/05/2015

The scene of the deadly Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia (AP)
The scene of the deadly Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia (AP)

Amtrak crash investigators are combing through phone records, train data, radio transmissions and surveillance video to see if the driver was using his mobile phone at the controls.

Brandon Bostian's phone records show calls were made, text messages sent and data used on the day of the May 12 crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said, but it remains unclear if the phone was used while the train was in motion.

Investigators will not know until a time-consuming analysis comparing time stamps from Mr Bostian's subpoenaed phone records with those from an on-board data recorder, video and other sources is completed.

The derailment killed eight people and injured more than 200.

Investigators are looking into why the train from Washington to New York City was going double the 50mph limit around a sharp curve about 10 minutes after leaving Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.

Mr Bostian's lawyer Robert Goggin has said the engineer kept his phone in a bag and used it only to call emergency services after the derailment. Mr Bostian, 32, who was injured, told investigators he had no recollection of the crash.

"The next thing he recalls is being thrown around, coming to, finding his bag, getting his cellphone and dialling" emergency services, Mr Goggin said the day after the crash.

Federal rules ban drivers, known as engineers, from using mobile phones while operating the train or preparing for movement.

The Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order and later adopted a rule banning electronic devices after a 2008 crash near Chatsworth, California, in which investigators said a driver went through a stop signal while texting a friend.

The Metrolink commuter train hit an oncoming freight train, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others.

Meanwhile, Railroad Workers United, a consortium of unions, said Mr Bostian's shift on the day of the Amtrak derailment had been particularly gruelling and equipment-related delays on his earlier train to Washington shortened his rest break.

A system that displays track signals on the train's dashboard failed, forcing Mr Bostian to pay close attention while reducing speeds on the Acela Express train - which tops out at 150mph in designated areas - to below 80mph, RWU general secretary Ron Kaminkow said.

"It wasn't a routine run," he said.

The Acela arrived at Washington's Union Station 26 minutes late, leaving Mr Bostian about an hour to rest, eat and go to the toilet before his trip back to New York on the Northeast Regional train that eventually derailed in Philadelphia, according to Karl Edler, a veteran Amtrak engineer with knowledge of Mr Bostian's schedule.

Engineers used to have at least 90 minutes between trips, Mr Kaminkow and Mr Edler said, but a March 23 schedule change ended the decades-old practice. The swift turnarounds have "the ability to create more fatigue in the workforce, plain and simple", Mr Kaminkow said.

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said the rail company reviewed crew assignments periodically to look for efficiencies or reflect changes in train operations and the recent changes were tested to ensure they met national safety regulations.

Mr Bostian talked to investigators on May 15 and did not report feeling fatigued or ill before to the derailment, according to the NTSB. Mr Edler has not spoken to Mr Bostian, but said his statement to investigators with a lawyer present may not have reflected how he truly felt.

Mr Edler, the leader of a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen branch in Washington DC and a former member of the union's safety task force, said he did not speak for the 52,300-member organisation.

The union issued a statement on Tuesday urging Amtrak to add a second crew member to train locomotives and criticising Congress for cutting rail network funding .

Mr Bostian, who had been an engineer on the Northeast Corridor for about three years, was based in New York and was assigned to the Washington to New York route for several weeks before the derailment, the NTSB said.

He worked a five-day week schedule, making a daily round trip from New York to Washington, and had a "very good working knowledge" of the territory and speed restrictions, said NTSB Board member Robert Sumwalt.

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