The NTSB held a press conference yesterday where Robert Sumwalt reported that Amtrak 188 was traveling at approximately 106mph just before the derailment occurred. They have also indicated that the engineer of the train put the train into emergency braking “moments” before the train left the tracks, slowing 3-4mph.

The information from this press conference may raise questions for people who are typically unfamiliar with these types of investigations.

1. Who is the NTSB?

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent Federal agency in charge of investigating significant transportation-related accidents. The NTSB performs investigations and analysis to find the “probable cause” of accidents and issue safety recommendations to prevent future accidents. Often, there is a preliminary report issued prior to the probable cause finding. You can follow the NTSB on Twitter.

2. What is an event recorder?

A locomotive event recorder is similar to an airplane’s “black box”. It records data the entire time the locomotive is in use. This data includes (among other things): speed, direction, time, throttle position, brake application, and cab signals. In addition to the locomotive event recorder, there is a camera mounted to the front of the locomotive that also records additional data and video. The information recorded by the event recorder is required by governmental regulations.

3. Why does the investigation take so long?

In each case we have been involved with that also involved the NTSB, the agency has done an in-depth investigation. While some information is readily available, other information requires complex calculations.

4. Why will some evidence be moved to the NTSB site?

The NTSB records all perishable data at the accident site, then moves its investigation off-site. This allows the investigation to proceed carefully, with access to information, tools and personnel unavailable at the accident scene.

There are also many questions that people have that we still don’t know the answers to:

  • Why was the train traveling at over 100mph through a 70-80 mph speed zone and heading into a curve in which the speed limit was 50mph?
  • Were the brakes and throttle functioning properly?
  • Were there any mechanical issues that caused or contributed to the accident, or the severity of the accident?
  • Why was there not positive train control installed in this location?
  • Were the tracks in proper condition?
  • Did the engineer’s actions or inactions cause or contribute to the derailment or its severity?

For those who have been injured, and those who have lost loved ones, waiting for answers is incredibly difficult. However, speculation leads to misinformation, which is unhelpful to everyone.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a railroad accident, please contact us to discuss your legal rights.