One of the last things Brandon Bostian remembers about the fateful trip of Amtrak Train 188 is this: Coming out of one of the final curves before the accident at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia he was going too slow — not too fast.
At least, that’s what Bostian — who was engineer of the train when it derailed on May 12th, killing eight people — thinks he remembers.
“The memory I think I may have from that night was that I came out of the 65-mile-an-hour curve. I pushed the throttle forward to accelerate my train,” Bostian told National Transportation Safety Board investigators during a November interview. “And as I approached 70 miles an hour, I have a memory that I backed off the throttle by mistake.” The train, he said, should’ve been going 80 mph — but Bostian had accelerated only to 70 mph.
Then again, that might not have happened at all. “I can’t tell you with accuracy, with certainty, that that was on the night of the incident,” he told investigators. “But in my mind, that’s what I believe.”
Investigators have long said the train was traveling well in excess of the speed limit when it derailed at Frankford Junction. What they’ve never concluded, though, is why that happened. Bostian, who was diagnosed with a concussion after the accident, told investigators he doesn’t remember key moments from the event.
Bostian’s interviews — one just days after the accident, on May 12th at 30th Street Station, and the other from November — were made available Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board, part of a 164-document release detailing evidence in the case. The board’s conclusions about the incident will come at a later date.
Transcripts from those interviews reveal that investigators were solicitous, even kind to the man at the center of the deadly crash, offering to take breaks as fatigue set in.
Highlights from Bostian’s interviews:
Bostian frequently pleaded faulty memory about the precise moments of the accident. “Unfortunately, the last memory I have on the way back is approaching and passing the platforms in North Philadelphia,” he told investigators in May. “I remember turning on the bell, and the next thing that I remember is when I came to my senses I was standing up in the locomotive cab after the accident.”
His memory had cleared somewhat by the November meeting, however. He described the moment of the accident more fully, though he said details remained “foggy.” He put the train “into emergency.”
“I remember holding onto the controls tightly and feeling like, ‘Okay well this is it, I’m going over,’” Bostian said. “And so I tried to brace myself. The only visual memory I have from that sequence of events is I remember seeing objects fly in front of me, kind of a blueish tint to them. I thought it was paperwork or some sort of thing. I wasn’t sure what it was.”
His next memory was from after the accident.
A SEPTA train had a windshield broken along the same stretch of track, raising concerns about the possibility of somebody throwing rocks at trains. “The train engineer on SEPTA sounded very upset and it sounded like the dispatcher was trying to get clear information as to whether or not he needed medical help. And the train engineer was not being very clear and so they went back-and-forth.”
Bostian added: “I was a little bit concerned for my safety. There’s been so many times when I’ve had report of rocks that I haven’t seen anything, that I felt like it was unlikely that it would impact me. And I was really concerned for the SEPTA engineer. I had a co-worker in Oakland that had glass impact in his eye from hitting a tractor-trailer and I know how terrible that is.”
He proceeded anyway, and did not remember encountering any problems with rocks or debris: “But I figured there’s a good chance that they left. Whoever was throwing rocks and shooting probably had left.”
Bostian was “pretty comfortable” driving the train through the Philadelphia area, but acknowledged that some stretches of track could be tricky. “On prior days, I’ve sometimes had freight trains on — I can’t remember what they call the freight track — off to the far right,” he said of one stretch. “But if a train is coming towards you with their headlight even on dim, I mean you don’t see the curve until you’re in the curve basically.”
He said he didn’t recall seeing speed restriction signs in the area, but that wasn’t unusual. “In my work habits, I don’t really look for the speed restriction signs because a lot of times they’re either missing or they’re the wrong train type or they’re wrong,” he said. “So that’s why I don’t recall if they have a speed restriction sign for that curve.”
The train engine was relatively new, but still had minor problems — like any locomotive, he said. “I don’t remember having any issues with the airbrakes” he said. “The only issue that I found, and I did not write it up because I normally write up issues at the end of the trip — the only issue is relatively minor. There was really excessive wind noise of the fireman’s side engineer window. So leaving D.C., when you got above — when I got above, you know, 70 or so, it got really loud and so I tried to make sure that the locking mechanism was fully secured.”
In both interviews, he was asked how to make train travel safer. In both cases, he declined to offer an answer. “As far as this incident goes, I really wish I could remember,” Bostian told investigators in May. “I can’t even say, because I don’t really know what happened.”
In November, he added: “I think that there are probably things that could be done. I haven’t had much time. I’ve been focusing a lot on recovery over the last few months. And also, it’s been, with my condition, it’s been difficult to concentrate for very long on things. I’d prefer to wait and go over that at a later time, if that’s OK.”
See the full transcripts below: