What happened on May 12, 2015, when Amtrak 188 derailed in Philadelphia?
A tranche of documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board offer less clarity that what victims and their families, anxious riders, and curious railfans might want to know. In some ways, the answer appears simple: The train was going too fast headed into a curve, and it came off the rails. But that much was clear soon after the accident, which killed eight and injured 200. In many ways, the huge stock of documents doesn’t bring anyone closer to understanding what happened.
There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that Amtrak 188 was hit by rocks or bullets, though it passed a regional commuter train that had been rocked. Engineer Brandon Bostian tested negative for drugs and alcohol. He wasn’t using his phone at the time of the accident—in fact, it was apparently in a bag, turned off and on airplane mode, until after the derailment. Bostian has no medical history that would have suggested problems. While he had to shorten his break between a trip to Washington, D.C., and the fateful return trip to New York on the day of the accident, he said he felt good.
Even before these documents, Bostian had emerged as a sort of tragic figure: A man who had always wanted to be an engineer, who lived trains, yet had driven his train off the rails in one of the worst rail accidents in American memory. (Matthew Shaer’s New York Times Magazine story from this weekend is required reading.) It’s the two interviews with Bostian that stick out from the documents released Monday. They represent the first time the public has been able to hear his thoughts on the crash. The interviews were taken on May 15, three days after the crash, and again in November.