The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary findings regarding the devastating derailment of an Amtrak train heading from Washington, D.C. to New York on Tuesday. The NTSB reports found that the train was traveling at about 106 miles per hour around a curve, more than twice the legal speed limit. The train was carrying 238 passengers (plus 5 more crew members) when it crashed, derailing 7 cars. At this time, 8 deaths have been reported and the rest of the surviving passengers have all been accounted for.

The mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, has publicly pointed the finger at the engineer operating the train, telling CNN that “clearly it was reckless in terms of the driving by the engineer. There’s no way in the world he should have been going that fast into the curve.” The NTSB official leading the investigation, Robert Sumwalt, “blasted the mayor’s comments as inflammatory.”

amtrak accident philadelphia

Why it may have happened

Certainly driver error could be at fault, but it is also possible that the system designed to warn a conductor or engineer of problems (like excessive speed) failed. Mr. Sumwalt told the New York Times that the engineer was already in the curve, and therefore could not decelerate in time. It is possible that the positive train control – a signal system in the tracks that “can dictate speeds and slow trains around curves” may have failed, or that the very warning system built into Amtrak trains may have malfunctioned.

The engineer himself is unable to remember exactly what happened. His attorney told CNN that he remembered hitting the emergency brake, and that he remembered calling 911 after he came to after the crash. A blood test proved he was not drinking or high when the crash occurred, though police are now asking to see his phone records to check if he was texting at the time.

There are still so many questions unanswered. We at Paulson & Nace, PLLC will be offering periodic updates regarding the Amtrak derailment so that you can find answers to those questions. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of everyone involved in this awful tragedy.