NTSB: Amtrak engineer commented on train’s speed 6 seconds before deadly derailment

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SEATTLE -- Video from the cab of the Amtrak train that hurtled off the tracks in Washington state, killing three people and injuring dozens, shows that the engineer did not appear to be using a cellphone or any other personal electronic device just before the derailment, federal investigators said Friday.

The video and audio captured from a camera facing inside the cab also revealed that the engineer was heard commenting about the train's speed just before the train crashed while traveling more than double the posted 30 mph (48 kph) speed limit. But authorities did not provide a transcript of what he said, saying only in a summary of the comments that "about six seconds prior to the derailment, the engineer made a comment regarding an over speed condition."

The video also showed that the engineer did not place the train's brake handle in emergency-braking mode as the locomotive was recorded traveling 78 mph (126 kph), according to the preliminary details of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The video recording "ended as the locomotive was tilting and the crew was bracing for impact." The train was carrying 85 passengers and crew members as it made its inaugural run along a fast, new 15-mile (24-kilometer) bypass route. Officials have said previously that another person was inside the locomotive's cab being trained by the engineer.

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Federal investigators trying to determine the cause of the wreck have gathered data from the locomotive's event data recorder as well as inward- and outward-facing train cameras. They have said their full investigation could take more than a year.

NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said earlier in the week that the locomotive's emergency brake went off automatically and was not manually activated by the engineer.

Rail-safety experts have said the engineer should have activated the brake about a minute before the train reached the curve posted for 30 mph (48 kph), and that not doing do strongly suggested that the engineer may have been distracted for an extended period.

The other person inside the cab when the crash happened was in-training conductor who was familiarizing himself with the route.

Investigators have said they are looking into whether the engineer was distracted by the second person or by something else.

Here are the NTSB's key findings from the initial review:

  • Inward-facing video with audio captured the crew’s actions and their conversations. A forward-facing video with audio captured conditions in front of the locomotive as well as external sounds.
  • The crew was not observed to use any personal electronic devices during the timeframe reviewed.
  • About six seconds prior to the derailment, the engineer made a comment regarding an over speed condition.
    The engineer’s actions were consistent with the application of the locomotive’s brakes just before the recording ended. It did not appear the engineer placed the brake handle in emergency-braking mode.
  • The recording ended as the locomotive was tilting and the crew was bracing for impact.
  • The final recorded speed of the locomotive was 78 mph.

The train derailment Monday spilled cars onto the highway and closed the southbound lanes of the state's main north-south arterial.

Federal investigators trying to determine the cause of the wreck say their full investigation could take more than a year.

NEXT: No passenger trains will use tracks where deadly derailment occurred until safety system is activated

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