Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary investigation reveals that the D.C.-NYC train entered a turn going twice the posted speed limit.
The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Wednesday that a high-speed turn played a part in an Amtrak passenger train derailing in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. But the reasons why the train was traveling so fast through the bend are still a mystery.
Robert Sumwalt, board chair for the NTSB, told reporters on Wednesday evening that the engineer of Northeast Regional Train 188 activated the full emergency-stop braking system just moments before the train derailed. According to a preliminary investigation, the train was traveling 106 miles per hour when the engineer hit the brakes—twice the speed limit.
The train derailed at approximately 9:21 p.m. as it made a left-hand turn along a curve with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. The subsequent derailment killed eight people aboard and injured some 200 more.
The NTSB could give no further clues about why the train was traveling so fast. The facts so far are based on a preliminary look at two on-board recorders, including the “event-data” recorder in the locomotive. But the detail that an early analysis can provide is limited, Sumwalt warned.
“You don’t just press a button and it spits out a speed,” Sumwalt said.
The data recorders terminated three seconds after the engineer applied the brakes, registering a final speed of 102 miles per hour. It is unclear yet at what point the train reached such a high speed. But even before the curve, the speed limit would have required the train to decelerate.
Sumwalt told reporters that the NTSB is working first and foremost to “collect perishable evidence” from the crash site and that the go-team will not fully determine the nature of the accident while it is working on scene. He said that federal investigators have yet to interview the engineer of the train.
Investigators sent both the forward-facing video-recorder and the event-data collector to Washington, D.C., for further analysis.
“Our mission is to find out not only what happened but why it happened so we can prevent it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.