NTSB Can’t Figure Out Amtrak Engineer’s Phone Records
Three weeks after the tragic Amtrak crash in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured hundreds, there are still more questions than answers, a fact that is frustrating some legislators in Washington.
On Tuesday, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union testified before members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Capitol Hill. It was the first Congressional hearing on the derailment since the accident occurred.
“There are a lot of frustrations in this committee,” declared Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, chairman of the committee — one of the largest in Congress. “It’s been three weeks now, and there are Americans who are still looking for answers.”
One of those answers centers on whether embattled Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian was using his cell phone just before the crash. Bostian’s attorney has said that the phone was off and stowed away in his client’s bag, as Amtrak regulations demand. Investigators have had the phone and Bostian’s phone records for weeks. But investigators still can’t say for sure whether he was texting, talking or otherwise using his phone while on duty.
“As you know, we are evaluating the engineer’s cell phone records to coordinate the timing and voice activity with the accident timeline,” NTSB chairman Christopher Hart told the legislators on Capitol Hill. “This process involves reviewing the time stamps from the phone records, which are from different time zones, with data from other information.”
Congressman Tom Rice of South Carolina asked Hart about that statement.
“Mr. Hart, you said you were looking at phone data from the last three weeks, complicated by changes in time zones,” Rice began. “How many time zones do you cross in Philadelphia on this line?”
Hart clarified, sort of.
“The time zones that we’re talking about are the time zones in the phone system,” he testified. “It’s a California-based carrier. So the time zones we are talking about are the time zones in the phone, not the time zones that the train passed.”
Later, New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney went after Hart on the phone issue again, asking, “Could you just tell us again in plain English why we don’t know whether this operator was on the phone — three weeks after the accident? You said it was a time zone issue? Can’t we just get the records? Do we have the records and, if so, wouldn’t we know whether he was on the phone?”
“We do have the records,” Hart told the panel. “The engineer was very cooperative and even gave us the password to his cellphone. As we peeled the onion, we found more and more complicated issues relating to the fact that the texts were on one time zone, the voice was on another time zone, and the carrier has all the time zones. It turned out to be far more complicated than anyone anticipated.”
Maloney pressed Hart for his assurance that the NTSB will be able to, at some point, definitively determine whether Bostian had used his phone during the crucial time period.
“Yes,” Hart insisted. “We’ll coordinate that with a number of different time sources to make sure to verify the accuracy of it. Because that’s very crucial to get that right. Obviously.”
The hammering continued, and Hart admitted that the NTSB doesn’t even know whether the phone was turned on or off at the time of the accident.
Watch the full hearing below.
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