Deadly Amtrak Crash Blamed On Driver Distraction

Brandon Bostian

A devastating Amtrak crash, which killed eight and left more than 200 injured last year, could have been avoided. This week, investigators revealed the likely cause of the fatal crash was driver distraction. They also believe updated technology would have prevented the accident.

According to reports, driver Brandon Bostian, 32, was distracted by a rock throwing incident involving another Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority system (SEPTA) train.

Bostian said he was worried because he noticed the other train had a shattered windshield when they passed. He was specifically concerned about the other train’s engineer, who he thought may need medical attention.

Although he is described by the NTSB as a “qualified, experienced and apparently alert engineer,” Brandon Bostian panicked. Instead of maintaining his speed, or slowing down, the driver sped up before entering a curve. As a result, the Amtrak train derailed and crashed.

Bostian reportedly accelerated to 106 mph, which is twice the legal limit for the stretch of track he was on.

“He went, in a matter of seconds, from distraction to disaster,” NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said.

The Amtrak crash toppled numerous rail cars on the Frankford Junction tracks. One car was completely ripped open while others were thrown into the air at 103 miles per hour before landing with a deafening thud on their sides. Passengers flew out through broken windows, and others hit the ceiling. Many were struck by luggage or crushed in the twisted metal.

NBC News reports the investigators determined Bostian was drug-free, sober, and was not using his cell phone when the deadly Amtrak crash occurred.

Brandon Bostian said he was terribly upset about the rock throwing incident because he saw the shattered windshield and heard the engineer was hurt.

“There’s been so many times that I’ve had reports of rocks that I haven’t seen anything, that I felt it was unlikely that it would impact me… I was concerned about the SEPTA engineer, but I figured whoever was throwing the rocks had probably left,” Bostian told investigators in May 2015.

As reported by the Washington Post, Sumwalt confirmed the train lacked Positive Train Control (PTC), which would have saved lives. If the system had been in place, the train would have slowed down automatically, which would have prevented the train from derailing due to driver error.

Seven months after the worst train wreck in more than 22 years, Positive Train Control has been added to all Amtrak trains that travel along the Northeast Corridor. The addition was ordered by federal regulators, who directed Amtrak to install the hardware before the end of 2016.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board began meeting to discuss the outcome of the year-long investigation into the Amtrak crash.

Bill Keppen, who worked as a Burlington Northern engineer for 13 years, is of the opinion that the engineer simply overreacted to the radio chatter about the rock throwing incident and the other engineer’s injury.

“It would not be uncommon for trains or engineers to communicate about troubles along the railway. I don’t think that should really affect the guy’s concentration. I can’t see inside that guy’s brain. That’s his brain, but I would be alert, I won’t be afraid.”

In addition, Keppen said the thickness of the windshield glass ensures it can withstand a strong blow without injuring anyone inside. Although he does not understand why Brandon Bostian panicked, Bill said he has empathy for the engineer and realizes he will be haunted by the Amtrak crash for a long time.

“I hesitate to criticize the guy. He’s going to live with that accident for the rest of his life,” Keppen said.

[Image via EQRoy/Shutterstock.com]