Train safety still dependent on engineer
PHILADELPHIA — The deadly Amtrak wreck has made it clear that despite the railroad industry's widespread use of electronic signals, sensors and warning systems, safety still sometimes comes down to the knowledge and experience of the engineer at the controls.
Those skills would have been critical on the curve where the New York-bound train derailed, killing eight and injuring more than 200 in the deadliest U.S. train accident in nearly six years.
Instead of high-tech signals or automatic controls, engineers on that stretch of track have to rely on their familiarity with the route and a printed time table they carry with them, not unlike engineers a century ago.
“We're depending heavily on the human engineer to correctly obey and interpret the signals that he sees and also speed limits and other operating requirements,” said David Clarke, a railroad expert at the University of Tennessee.
The engineer of the train has told investigators that he doesn't recall the moments leading up to the crash.
Brandon Bostian told the National Transportation Safety Board in an interview Friday that he felt comfortable with the train and was not fatigued.
In the minute before the derailment, the train accelerated from 70 mph to more than 100 mph, even though the curve where it came off the tracks has a maximum speed of 50 mph.
Experts say the railroad's signaling system would have slowed the train automatically if it had hit the maximum speed allowed on the line, but older cab signal and train control systems do not respond to localized speed restrictions.