No video to help Amtrak probe -- despite NTSB recommendation

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Amtrak Resumes Service While Train Tragedy Investigation Continues

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five years ago, federal accident investigators recommended that the government require video cameras in locomotive cabs to record engineers' actions. But it didn't happen. Now, that's left a gap in unraveling last week's fatal Amtrak derailment.

It's an old story for the National Transportation Safety Board. Accidents occur, people die and there is a clamor for action. Later, when attention moves elsewhere, recommendations frequently lag for years. Some are never realized.

In the Amtrak crash, the train was equipped with a "black box" data recorder and a camera focused on the track ahead. Information from those devices shows that in the last minute before the crash the train accelerated rapidly, reaching 106 miles per hour just before entering a curve where the speed limit was 50. Maximum braking power was applied in the last few seconds, but it was too late.

21 PHOTOS
Amtrak accident aftermath
See Gallery
No video to help Amtrak probe -- despite NTSB recommendation
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: Police shut down a ramp that lead to a train track near the site of a train derailment accident May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 15: A construction worker begins to unload heavy machinery from a truck to repair damaged train tracks at the crash site of this week's Amtrak passenger train on May 15, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At least 8 people were killed and more than 200 others were injured in the train derailment carrying more than 200 passengers from Washington, DC to New York. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 15: NTSM spokesperson Robert Sumwalt is interviewed about the Amtrak crash near the wreckage of this week's Amtrak passenger train on May 15, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At least eight people were killed and more than 50 others were injured in the train crash carrying more than 200 passengers from Washington, DC to New York, which derailed on May 12, 2015 in north Philadelphia. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: NTSB spokesmen Robert Sumwalt walks over to speak to the media about the Amtrak train derailment, May 14, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today rescue workers recovered another body from the wreckage after Tuesday night's Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia, the death toll now at eight with more than 200 injured. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Joseph Boardman (L), President and CEO of Amtrak listens to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (L) speak about the Amtrak train derailment, May 14, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today rescue workers recovered another body from the wreckage after Tuesday night's Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia, the death toll now at eight with more than 200 injured. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Investigators and rescue personnel gather near the site of the Amtrak train derailment May 14, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: In this handout image supplied by NTSB, NTSB IIC Mike Flanigon (R) with Member Robert Sumwalt (L) and Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr (Center-L) work on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter briefs members of the media near the site of a train derailment accident May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: In this handout image supplied by NTSB, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt works on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: In this handout image supplied by NTSB, The NTSB Go Team arrives on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: In this handout image supplied by NTSB, NTSB Recorder Specialist Cassandra Johnson (2nd R) works with officials on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: In this handout image supplied by NTSB, NTSB IIC Mike Flanigon (L) briefs Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 derailmenton May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: In this handout image supplied by NTSB, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt with Philadelphia officials The NTSB Go Team arrives on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter briefs members of the media near the site of a train derailment accident May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: NTSB spokesmen Robert Sumwalt briefs the media on the latest findings into Tueday's Amtrak train derailment, May 14, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today another body was found raising the death toll to eight with more than 200 injured. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Members of the National Transportation Safety Board gather near the site of the Amtrak train derailment May 14, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Police gather near the site of the Amtrak train derailment May 14, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: Repair crews inspect damages at the site of a train derailment accident May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: NTSB member Robert Sumwalt briefs members of the media near the site of a train derailment accident May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Service has been interrupted after an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia last night, killing at least seven people and injured more than 200. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Maintance workers repair damaged lines after poles were knocked over when an Amtrak Northeast Regional Train derailed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 13, 2015. US investigators on Wednesday painstakingly combed through the twisted wreckage of an Amtrak train for clues as to why it derailed in Philadelphia, leaving at least six people dead and more than 200 injured. Officials warned the death toll could rise after the crash late Tuesday along the busy northeast US rail corridor linking Washington and New York, as some of the 243 passengers and crew believed to have been on the train had not yet been accounted for. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The train derailed, leaving eight people dead, about 200 injured and a mangled mess of rail cars. Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York didn't resume until Monday.

What investigators would like to know is why the train accelerated. Was it a deliberate act by the engineer? An accident? Or was there some other reason?

Questions have arisen whether the Amtrak locomotive was hit by a projectile of some kind as it passed through Philadelphia. An engineer for a local commuter railroad reported being hit by something shortly before the crash, and a conductor on the Amtrak train has told investigators she heard the Amtrak engineer, Brandon Bostian, say over a radio that their train had been hit as well.

Bostian, who suffered a head injury in the crash, has told investigators he can't remember anything after leaving the Philadelphia's 30th Street station, the last stop before the derailment, until after the crash.

It's exactly the kind of circumstance that the NTSB's recommendation for inward-facing video and sound cameras was supposed to address, says Jim Hall, who was the board's chairman in the 1990s. It's not unusual for engineers to be killed in train crashes, or to be seriously injured and not remember details clearly.

"To not have all the investigative tools when people have lost their lives in order to understand what occurred and to prevent it from recurring is a travesty," Hall said. "The black box can tell us what the controls did, but we don't know exactly what the operator did."

5 PHOTOS
Amtrak crash victims (including funerals & mourners)
See Gallery
No video to help Amtrak probe -- despite NTSB recommendation
HEWLETT, NY - MAY 15: Midshipmen from the U.S Naval academy carry Midshipman Justin Zemser to a waiting car after his funeral on May 15, 2015 in Hewlett New York. Zemser was one of eight people who were killed in the derailment of an Amtrak train on May 12th in Philadelphia. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
HEWLETT, NY - MAY 15: Midshipmen from the U.S Naval academy carry Midshipman Justin Zemser to a waiting car after his funeral on May 15, 2015 in Hewlett New York. Zemser was one of eight people who were killed in the derailment of an Amtrak train on May 12th in Philadelphia. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
HEWLETT, NY - MAY 15: Susan Zemser and Howard Zemser attend the funeral for their son, Midshipman Justin Zemser, on May 15, 2015 in Hewlett New York. Zemser was one of eight people who were killed in the derailment of an Amtrak train on May 12th in Philadelphia. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
The @NavalAcademy is heartbroken to confirm that a #usna midshipman is among those who lost their lives in the #Amtrak188 derailment.
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Until recently the Federal Railroad Administration had opposed requiring the cameras, citing concern for the privacy of railroad employees and worrying that the images might be used punitively by railroads. Labor unions representing railroad engineers have also strongly opposed the cameras.

"Installation of cameras will provide the public nothing more than a false sense of security," Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said following a December 2013 commuter train crash in the Bronx, New York, in which it was later determined the engineer had fallen asleep. "More than a century of research establishes that monitoring workers actually reduces the ability to perform complex tasks, such as operating a train, because of the distractive effect."

The railroad administration and the union didn't immediately respond to questions Monday from The Associated Press.

In the past few months, the railroad administration has told the NTSB that it intends to propose regulations requiring the cameras. However, no regulations have yet been proposed, and it typically takes federal agencies many months, if not years, to move from proposals to final regulations.

The NTSB first recommended requiring audio recordings of sound in locomotive cabs in the late 1990s following a commuter rail crash in Silver Spring, Maryland. None of the operating crew members survived the crash, and the board was unable to determine their actions leading up to the crash. The recommendation was repeated in about a dozen more crash investigations since then.

It was revised to include video cameras with sound five years ago as the board wrapped its investigation into one of the worst train collisions in memory - a Metrolink commuter train that failed to obey signals and collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, California, in 2008. Twenty-five people were killed, including the Metrolink engineer, and over 100 injured.

The NTSB later determined the engineer was distracted and didn't notice the signals because he had been sending text messages during the trip. But some deduction was involved in that conclusion.

"Clearly the visuals would have revealed what actually happened," said Mark Rosenker, who chaired the NTSB at the time of the Metrolink accident.

Over the past five years, the safety agency has repeated the camera recommendation in accident after accident, including as recently as last November when the board concluded its investigation into a collision between Union Pacific and BNSF Railway freight trains near Chaffee, Missouri, in May 2013.

"The NTSB remains concerned that the Federal Railroad Administration's delayed action .... leaves many safety lessons unlearned and further delays improvements for the safety of railroad operations," the board said at the time.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners