NTSB investigators interview Philadelphia Amtrak engineer, conductors

(CNN) [Breaking news update, posted at 5:52 p.m.]

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed Friday the engineer of the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Investigators found engineer Brandon Bostian to be \"extremely cooperative,\" said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt.

Bostian told investigators he was not ill or tired, felt \"fully qualified and ... reported no problems with his train handling,\" Sumwalt said.

He said he had \"no recollection\" of anything that happened once the train passed the North Philadelphia station, according to Sumwalt.

One of the assistant conductors on the train was also interviewed Friday and reported hearing radio transmissions that Bostian had with the engineer of a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train.

\"She recalled that the SEPTA 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,\" Sumwalt said. \"She also believed that she heard (the Amtrak) engineer say something about his train being struck by something.\"

Sumwalt said there is damage to the lower portion of the Amtrak windshield that the FBI will examine as part of the investigation.

[Previous story, posted at 1:03 p.m.]

Long before Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 jumped the rails at excessive speed, engineer Brandon Bostian apparently was an online advocate to prevent this kind of calamity -- technology to slow a dangerously fast train when an engineer does not.

\"They have had nearly a hundred years of opportunity to implement SOME sort of system to mitigate human error,\" one post read. \"But with a few notable exceptions (the rail industry) has failed to do so.\"

This message was one of several in recent years appearing to be written by Bostian on TrainOrders.com, which describes itself as a \"railfan site\" with photos, multimedia, chat and discussion forums. In one of the posts with the same \"author\" name, he writes out his name in full; in another, he uses his first initial. In one more, he describes himself as a student in Missouri originally from Memphis, which was true at the time.

The posts shed light on one of the most pivotal people in Tuesday night's crash in Philadelphia, which killed eight people and sent more than 200 more to local hospitals. Twenty-five people were still being treated at five hospitals midday Friday, including eight in critical condition, according to hospital spokespeople.

He, above all people, should know best how and why the train was going 106 mph around a curve with a 50-mph speed limit, as the National Transportation Safety Board says. He should be able to explain best why the train was going more than 70 mph some 65 seconds before the crash -- as video shows, according to NTSB member Robert Sumwalt -- and then continued to accelerate.

Investigators looking at speed as factor

Unfortunately, Bostian can't help much right now, according to his attorney. That's because he suffered a concussion, among other injuries, when his engine car repeatedly tumbled and \"has absolutely no recollection of the events,\" the lawyer, Robert Goggin, told ABC's \"Good Morning America.\"

Investigators are considering all possibilities Friday, including speed, track conditions and human error, as they try to figure out what happened. One thing Sumwalt has said already is that there would have been no derailment if technology known as positive train control had been in place on the fateful override track to overrule an errant, oblivious or incapacitated engineer.

How does positive train control work?

Sumwalt has been seconded by rail experts, insiders and aficionados. Bostian himself apparently was an advocate of such an approach before the crash.

A 2011 post mentions how the NTSB decades ago put positive train control on its \"most wanted\" list of rail upgrades, then lamented that it took Congress to pass a law mandating the change by the end of 2015. Bostian apparently wrote that railroads have had many tools available for decades to curb crashes such as the one in Southern California involving a freight train and a Metrolink commuter train that killed 25 people in 2008.

\"It shouldn't take an act of Congress to get (the rail) industry to adopt common-sense safety systems on their own,\" one message states.

Debate over Amtrak technology, funding

Many concur it is a shame positive train control wasn't installed already in places such as Frankford Junction, the curve in the track where this week's train crash happened. That includes Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman.

\"Had it been installed, it would have been prevented this accident,\" the Amtrak chief told CNN's Rene Marsh. \"That's what I've been saying for a long period of time.\"

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