Amtrak crash investigation update: human error or mechanical problems?

Federal investigators today are continuing to comb through the wreckage left at the scene of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood, and lots of questions remain about what exactly caused the deadly crash.

Namely, what role did the train’s engineer play? Was human error to blame, or was there a mechanical problem? 


The engineer has been identified by his lawyer as Brandon Bostian, a 32-year-old from New York City. Mayor Michael Nutter Wednesday night appeared on CNN and said the blame lies squarely with Bostian, saying “there’s no way in the world he should have been going that fast into the curve.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Investigators say the train was traveling 106 miles per hour around the sharp left turn in the track, more than double the posted speed limit.  The speed limit in the section before the curve is 80 mph, and the maximum speed at which the train is permitted to take the turn is 50 mph. 

Speaking to ABC news, the attorney said Bostian doesn’t remember anything leading up to the train’s derailment and that he suffered a concussion.

Robert Sumwalt with the National Transportation Safety Board said not remembering what exactly happened is typical of these kinds of incidents.

“It’s not unusual at all when we are involved with a traumatic event. It’s not unusual at all for the human brain to shut that out to protect us from that trauma,” Sumwalt said. “But often times, over time, bits and pieces of that do come back.”

An additional unknown is whether Bostian was distracted while operating the train. Federal investigators are now looking into his cell phone records.

Another thing to watch today is whether the death toll climbs as more people are accounted for.

At last check, officials said eight people have died and nine remain in critical condition.  One patient who was in critical condition has been upgraded to “fair.”

Nutter said today that authorities believe all persons who had tickets for Tuesday night’s train have been accounted for. 

WHYY’s Tom MacDonald contributed to this report.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal