PHILADELPHIA — What was Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian doing and thinking when his speeding train careened off the rails in Philadelphia, killing at least seven people and sending over 200 more to the hospital?
He can’t say.
That’s what Bostian’s lawyer told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday, saying his client “has absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events” after losing consciousness in the crash Tuesday night.
“He remembers coming into the curve (and) attempting to reduce speed,” the attorney, Robert Goggin, said. “… The last thing he recalls is coming to, looking for his bag, getting his cell phone, turning it on and calling 911.”
Initial data show the train barreled into a curve at about 106 mph before it derailed, National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said. That’s more than twice the 50-mph speed limit for the curve, and above the 80-mph limit immediately before it.
Investigators haven’t determined why the train was going so fast, whether it was due to human or mechanical error. But they may not get much more insight anytime soon from the 32-year-old Bostian, who has 15 staples in his head, stitches in one leg and his other leg immobilized, according to his lawyer.
The engineer can’t recall engaging the emergency brake, even though Sumwalt has said he did so “just moments” before the train derailed. Goggin thinks some of his client’s memories may come back as he recovers from a concussion suffered in the derailment.
Bostian has already fielded questions from authorities. Goggin says his client told them “everything he knew. He cooperated fully.”
A police official said that authorities have since tried to talk to Bostian, but he refused and left with a lawyer. Goggin insists his client will meet with investigators again “when they ask.”
The law enforcement official said police were seeking to look at Bostian’s phone records, but Goggin insisted his client hadn’t been talking or texting on his phone before he made the 911 call. Nor did he have any other notable documented accidents or mishaps while on the job. Goggin said Bostian had voluntarily taken a blood test and there was “no drinking, no drugs, no medical conditions. Nothing.”
As to Bostian’s thoughts on the crash’s carnage, especially the human toll, his lawyer said, “I can tell you that he was distraught when he learned of the devastation. He was distraught.”
Mayor calls engineer ‘reckless,’ NTSB fires back
He’s already in trouble — if you listen to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
“Clearly it was reckless in terms of the driving by the engineer,” Nutter told CNN on Wednesday. “There’s no way in the world he should have been going that fast into the curve.”
“I don’t know what was going on with him. I don’t know what was going on in the cab, but there’s really no excuse that can be offered, literally, unless he had a heart attack.”
Sumwalt, the NTSB board member, immediately blasted the mayor’s comments as inflammatory.
“You’re not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that,” he said. “We want to get the facts before we start making judgments.”
Hospital official: Survivors are getting better
While Sumwalt’s team is investigating things like the condition of the track and the train, how the signals operated and “human performance,” the recovery continues for many of those who were on board.
The train, which was going from Washington to New York, was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members when it crashed around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Survivors recalled an otherwise sleepy, mundane ride devolving into chaos in seconds as train cars tilted and toppled, sending most everything — from luggage to laptops, from phones to people — flying.
Eight people have died as a result of the crash. They include Associated Press video software architect Jim Gaines, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Justin Zemser and Derrick Griffith, a dean of student affairs for City University of New York Medgar Evers College.
The death toll includes a person pulled from the wreckage of the first car Thursday morning. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said that a call was received around 8 a.m. “to bring back our cadaver dog,” and after that “we were able to find another passenger in the wreckage.”
That body was taken from the scene and brought to the medical examiner’s office. With that discovery, Nutter said that all 243 people thought to have been on the train are now accounted for.
Many of them are recovering from injuries, at home or in medical facilities. Temple University Hospital, the closest trauma center to the crash, at one point had dozens of patients between the ages of 19 and 80. They came from various East Coast states and also had connections to several countries, including Spain, India, Belgium, Albania, Britain and Singapore, according to the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Herbert Cushing.
Eight were in critical condition at Temple on Thursday. But the good news is that many others have been or could soon be released and that everyone is improving. Sixteen people were in the Philadelphia hospital Thursday morning, down from 23 the previous night.
“I believe strongly that all the remaining folks will get better and go home,” said Cushing, who expects a few crash-related surgeries Thursday. “… I don’t think there are going to be many lasting, significant effects for these folks, because most of it was just broken bones.”
Inconvenience for travelers, big hit for Amtrak
While investigators busily sifted through the pieces of seven derailed train cars in Philadelphia, train stations in that city and others in the region were noticeably quieter than usual because many trains simply aren’t running.
That was the case for Amtrak operations between Philadelphia and New York, where Penn Station on Thursday was relatively empty for a weekday morning. Local trains continued to operate, and other workarounds were in place — like New Jersey Transit honoring Amtrak tickets between New York City and Trenton, New Jersey. But the impact was evident in the rows of empty seats and vacant Amtrak ticket counters.
For many travelers, it’s an inconvenience. But it’s a big deal, and a big loss, for Amtrak.
The entity also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation had more than 31 million passengers between October 2012 and September 2013. And far and away, its Northeast Corridor was its busiest stretch, with more than a third of all its passengers.
In fact, Amtrak’s three busiest stations are also the hardest hit.
Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station has an annual Amtrak ridership of more than 4 million, Washington’s Union Station ridership tops 5 million, and the figure for New York’s Penn Station is around 10 million.
Official: Technology could have prevented crash
Tuesday night’s derailment was Amtrak’s ninth this year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. And it’s not just Amtrak. The FRA notes there were 35 derailments nationwide on main railways in a single month, January 2014.
On Thursday morning, several cars from a cargo train jumped the track in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood, city spokesman Timothy McNulty said. That derailment was relatively minor: McNulty said there were “no passengers, no hazmat, no hazard.”
But incidents like the one in Philadelphia highlight questions about whether the nation’s rail infrastructure is adequate.
Transportation analyst Matthew L. Wald said the area where the train derailed has had problems in the past.
“It’s an extremely heavily used stretch of track,” he said. “They have trouble keeping it in a state of good repair.”
In addition to the condition of the track, there’s a matter of the technology tied to it. Specifically, many have noted this stretch did not have an automated speed control system called positive train control that could have overridden any human errors and slowed the train down.
In 2008, Congress ordered the nation’s railroads to adopt positive train control by December 2015 — but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the deadline will be met.
“We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track,” NTSB board member Sumwalt said, “this accident would not have occurred.”
CNN’s Kevin Conlon, Rene Marsh, Jason Carroll, Linh Tran, Catherine E. Shoichet, Dana Ford, David Shortell, AnneClaire Stapleton, Jason Hanna, Tony Marco and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.