May 17, 2016 / 4:01 PM / 3 years ago

Radio traffic likely distracted Amtrak engineer in 2015 crash: NTSB

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The engineer driving a speeding Amtrak passenger train that crashed in Philadelphia in 2015, killing eight passengers, was likely distracted by radio traffic, U.S. safety officials said on Tuesday after a year-long investigation.

The engineer of Amtrak Train 188, Brandon Bostian, sped into a curve at more than twice the recommended speed minutes after listening to emergency radio calls about a nearby commuter train hit by a thrown rock, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in its findings from the investigation.

The incident could have been prevented if the track had been fitted with positive train control, a safety system, the agency’s report concluded.

The safety board’s chairman, Christopher Hart, said Bostian likely lost track of where the train was before the May 12, 2015, crash that also injured 186 people.

“We will delve into the most complicated and unpredictable part of the transportation system - the human being,” he told NTSB board members at a hearing into the probable cause of the accident.

NTSB investigators recommended a number of steps to prevent a similar accident. They included positive train control, crew memory training, train location devices, improved protection for passengers such as stronger windows and installation of video cameras showing the interior of locomotive cabs.

The locomotive and seven cars of the New York-bound train derailed at Frankford Junction Curve about 11 minutes after leaving Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Four passengers died after they were thrown from the train when windows came loose.

As the train headed north, Bostian had monitored emergency calls between the commuter train and the rail dispatcher. He sped up to full throttle for about 40 seconds, reaching 106 miles per hour (170 km per hour) on a stretch where the speed limit was 50 mph (80 kph).

Investigators said Bostian may have thought he was on a higher-speed section following Frankford Junction. The crash occurred at night, and he lacked visual clues about where the train was.

Track workers and officials work at the site of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Stephen Jenner, an NTSB investigator, said Bostian had no recollection of what happened before the accident. The engineer suffered a concussion, and an Amtrak spokesman said he was on leave.

Federally owned Amtrak said in a statement it would review the findings and recommendations. Amtrak has put positive train control on most of the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston and installed the video cameras on Corridor locomotives.

Hart said 37 people had died in Amtrak accidents since 2008 that could have been prevented by positive train control.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Andrew Hay and Frances Kerry

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