FBI to investigate: Amtrak train windshield may have been struck, or shot before derailment

Investigators have found what they called a “fist-sized circular area of impact” in the the windshield of the Amtrak train that derailed Tuesday, and an assistant conductor said she overheard radio chatter that another train had been struck by an object.

One of three assistant conductors on the derailed train “recalled that the SEPTA [Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority] engineer had reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock or shot at, and the SEPTA engineer said that he had a broken windshield, and he placed his train into emergency stop,” Robert L. Sumwalt, the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference Friday.

“Right after she recalled hearing this conversation between her engineer and the SEPTA engineer, she said she felt a rumbling, and her train leaned over and her car went over on its side.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has asked the FBI to look at damage to the locomotive’s windshield, Sumwalt said, adding that the agency often calls on the FBI’s technical expertise.

Investigators have also obtained video from the damaged SEPTA train, and are planning to interview its crew members.

Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 derailed Tuesday near Philadelphia after entering a sharp curve at a speed of 106 mph, more than twice the 50 mph speed limit.  Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured in the crash.

Investigators interviewed the train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian, on Friday and found him “extremely cooperative,” although he could not remember anything about the derailment, Sumwalt said.

“He recalls ringing the train bell as he went through North Philadelphia Station, as required,” he said. “He has no recollection of anything past that.”

Bosnian, 32, told investigators he had no recollection of projectiles hitting the train, Sumwalt said.

The engineer appeared to be in good health, and completed his required Federal Railroad Administration physical just last month, Sumwalt said, adding that coworkers called him “very professional” and “great to work with.”

Bostian was not ill or tired, and “reported no problems with his train or handling,” Sumwalt said.  “He demonstrated good working knowledge of the territory” where the derailment occurred, and makes the trip between Washington and New York five days a week.

Over the weekend, investigators plan to reassemble the train, “put it back together, connect the brake lines, and conduct a brake test,” Sumwalt said.

Steve Berman

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