Amtrak will install video cameras inside locomotive cabs to record the actions of train engineers, the railroad announced Tuesday.
The move follows the deadly derailment earlier this month in Philadelphia in which investigators are still searching for clues to the train engineer’s actions before the crash occurred.
Brandon Bostian, the Amtrak engineer, suffered a head injury in the accident and has told investigators he cannot remember what happened. Northeast Regional train 188 accelerated to a speed of 106 miles per hour in the last minute before entering a curve where it derailed. The speed limit for the curve is 50 mph. The crash left eight people dead and about 200 others injured.
The train was equipped with a “black box” data recorder and an outward-facing camera that focused on the track ahead. However, neither of the devices reveal what was happening inside the cab.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration require passenger and freight train cabs to have audio recorders since the late 1990s. They revised that recommendation five years ago to include inward-facing sound and video recorders.
Railroad administrators support the use of the camera. The agency has told the NTSB that it intends to propose regulations requiring the cameras. However, no such regulations have been proposed and it typically takes federal agencies many months, if not years, to move from proposals to final regulations.
The railroad’s president and CEO, Joseph Boardman, said Amtrak has support efforts by the railroad administration safety advisory committee to come up with standards for cameras. However, it has not issued any recommendations.
"We've been supporting it all the way along," he told reporters in a telephone briefing. "It's just a matter of working out some of those details. ... There may be some adjustments we have to make later down the road, but I think it's time to do it and I'm doing it."
Boardman said Amtrak will review the recordings to monitor engineers’ actions.
Unions representing engineers at Amtrak and other passenger and freight railroads have generally opposed the use of cameras. In 2012, railroad administration officials opposed required the cameras, telling the NTSB they were concerned the cameras could damage employee morale and the images might be used punitively by railroads.
Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney representing 10 passengers who were on the train, said Amtrak shouldn't wait until after a disaster to make safety changes. The railroad has also announced since the crash that it will install technology before the end of the year to automatically stop trains that are in danger of exceeding speed limits.
"Although we approve of Amtrak's belated decision to install a video camera inside the cab of the locomotive, the question remains, 'Why wasn't this done much earlier?" he said.
The cameras will first be installed in 70 new Amtrak locomotives that power all Northeast Regional and long-distance trains between Washington, New York and Boston, as well as Keystone Service between New York, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Boardman says most locomotives will be equipped with cameras by the end of the year.
Amtrak is developing a plan for installation of cameras in the rest of its locomotive fleet, including Acela Express locomotives, but no time table has been set for those installations. The railroad has about 300 locomotives nationwide.
It's not unusual for engineers to be killed in train crashes, or to be seriously injured and not remember details clearly. The NTSB first recommended requiring audio recordings of sound in locomotive cabs following a 1996 collision between commuter train and an Amtrak train in Silver Spring, Maryland. None of the commuter train's operating crew members survived, and the board was unable to determine their actions leading up to the crash.
The recommendation was revised to include video cameras with sound in 2010 as the board wrapped up its investigation into one of the worst train collisions in memory — a Metrolink commuter train that failed to obey signals and collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, California. Twenty-five people were killed, including the Metrolink engineer, and over 100 injured in the 2008 crash.
The Associated Press contributed to this report