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Amtrak Engineer Said Train May Have Been Struck Before Derailment


There have been significant developments in the investigation into what led to the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia Tuesday night. Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board spoke at a news conference this afternoon. He said three crewmembers of Amtrak train number 188 were interviewed today - the engineer and two assistant conductors. He said one of them described new details.


ROBERT SUMWALT: She reported that approximately three to four minutes after departing Philadelphia she said she heard the engineer talking to a SEPTA engineer. She recalled that the SEPTA engineer had reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock or shot at.

CORNISH: SEPTA stands for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and that assistant conductor also believes she heard her engineer saying the Amtrak train had been hit by something. NPR's Joel Rose joins us now. And Joel, to begin, how does any of this change this investigation?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, Audie, it certainly opens up a whole lot of new questions. Robert Sumwalt was quick at that press conference to point out that so far there is no corroborating evidence to support what the assistant conductor said about the local commuter train that had been struck by some sort of projectile or that the Amtrak train had been struck. But I'm certain that investigators will be looking very hard to turn up some kind of evidence that could support that. They'll look at video from the SEPTA train, Robert Sumwalt said. He also said that the FBI will be assisting now in the investigation. Sumwalt said that there was apparently some damage to the windshield of the Amtrak train that looked worthy of further investigation, and Sumwalt said the FBI will be looking at that to see if there's any kind of information that perhaps FBI analysts can glean that might, you know, help to corroborate the story that we've heard now from the assistant conductor. But of course that will be probably very challenging because anyone who's seen the train cars knows that they were heavily damaged on - in the derailment on Tuesday night so, you know, it'll have to be a very subtle analysis to figure anything out, I'm sure.

CORNISH: What more did Robert Sumwalt have to say about this interview with the train's engineer?

ROSE: Well, he described the engineer as extremely cooperative. He said that this is the engineer's regular route. He said he's 32 years old. He's been identified elsewhere as Brandon Bostian. He lives in Queens, N.Y. Robert Sumwalt said he began his career as a brakeman. He started out as a conductor with Amtrak in 2010 and became a locomotive engineer later. He's been working out of New York City, and he's been on this particular job for several weeks. Sumwalt said that he knew the track extremely well, that he was able to answer questions about the details of speed limitations at various parts of the route, and this was his job. He did this route five days a week. Robert Sumwalt said that the engineer remembered blowing his horn as he passed through the station in North Philadelphia where this train - the train 188 was not scheduled to stop, but the engineer told the NTSB that he remembered nothing after that, including the accident itself. And that of course tracks with what we've heard in the past from Bostian's lawyer earlier this week.

CORNISH: Finally, Joel, the NTSB said this would be its final briefing on the derailment. What happens now?

ROSE: Yes, this is the last briefing in Philadelphia, but the investigation will continue, and investigators will return to Washington to gather more evidence and to begin analyzing what they've gotten here. There's still a lot of evidence that, you know, has not come in yet. For example, toxicology results, tests of - that the engineer gave to - that are being analyzed both by Amtrak and by the NTSB. We can expect those results to come in in the future. And Robert Sumwalt said he'd also look forward to any video from the public that could potentially shed more light on some of the - these new areas of inquiry. So this investigation is still a long way from finished.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose in Philadelphia. Joel, thank you.

ROSE: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.