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Amtrak CEO Pledges To Install Speed Control Technology By End Of Year


Federal investigators are still trying to determine why an Amtrak train was traveling more than 100 miles an hour when it derailed at a sharp curve in Philadelphia. Many of the questions focus on the engineer who was at the controls and on what Amtrak should be doing to improve train safety. From Philadelphia, NPR's Joel Rose reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the final boarding call for regional train 125...

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: There is limited train service today at Amtrak's 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, but Tuesday's derailment is not far from anyone's mind. Passengers seem acutely aware that the derailed train approached the curve near Frankford Junction at twice the posted speed limit of 50 miles per hour.

BOB DOCKHORN: It was clearly too fast. In Frankford, they have to slow down, and clearly this train didn't.

CHRIS LOMBARDI: It seems like something went terribly wrong, but you're not sure what. It shouldn't have been going that fast.

ZAKIA KUSH: It seems it was human error. There was no reason for them to be speeding on the track.

ROSE: Bob Dockhorn (ph), Chris Lombardi (ph) and Zakia Kush (ph) - she's not the only one who blames the engineer for what happened. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called him reckless and irresponsible. That engineer, Brandon Bostian, hasn't spoken publicly, but his lawyer has. Robert Goggin appeared today on ABC's "Good Morning America." Goggin said his client suffered a concussion and doesn't remember the accident.


ROBERT GOGGIN: He remembers coming into the curve. He remembers attempting to reduce speed. Thereafter he was knocked out, thrown around just like all the other passengers in that train. He does not remember deploying the emergency brake. We know that it was in fact deployed. The last thing he recalls is coming to, getting his cellphone, turning it on and calling 911.

ROSE: Federal investigators say it's too soon to draw conclusions about why the train derailed. They say Bostian has agreed to an interview. National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said late Wednesday that the accident could've been avoided if that stretch of track had been equipped with an automatic speed control system known as positive train control.


ROBERT SUMWALT: Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.

ROSE: Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman made this promise.


JOSEPH BOARDMAN: Today, we're committing to - I'm committing to -meeting the requirement of positive train control. That will happen on the Northeast Corridor by the end of this year.

ROSE: But positive train control still presents serious technological and funding challenges for the railroad industry. By one estimate, it would cost an additional $5 billion to install this technology across the country. That's an expensive proposition for Amtrak at a time when the railroad is a fighting against budget cuts in Washington. Today, House Speaker John Boehner said Amtrak's funding has nothing to do with the accident in Philadelphia.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: Obviously, it's not about funding. It's - the train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there; no money's been cut from rail safety.

ROSE: And not everyone thinks technology like positive train control is the best way to improve rail safety.

DAVID RANGEL: There is a simple solution, and that is simply putting another person in the cab of the locomotive.

ROSE: David Rangel is the president of the Modoc Railroad Academy, a school for train engineers. He says another set of eyes would help catch mistakes and potentially prevent tragedies like Tuesday's derailment.

RANGEL: It's our assertion that a second individual needs to be in the cab of a locomotive, especially on high-speed passenger trains. It's crazy not to have another person up there.

ROSE: But Amtrak and other critics say the research on that point is inconclusive. Rail service remains suspended between New York and Philadelphia for a second day as the investigation continues. Joel Rose, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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