Amtrak 188 engineer Brandon Bostian

The man operating the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia last year told investigators that some memories of the night’s events came back to him.

Brandon Bostian, the engineer who was operating Amtrak 188 on May 12 last year when it flew off the tracks, killing eight and injuring dozens of others, was interviewed twice by federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, according to a trove of documents released today.

In his first interview with investigators the week of the crash, Bostian said he had little memory of the night of the crash when investigators said the train, bound for New York, sped around a curve at the Frankford Junction, and then derailed.

But in a follow-up interview with NTSB investigators six months later in November, Bostian, who suffered a head injury during the crash, seemed to have remembered more steps he took moments before the train derailed.

“I couldn’t say with certainty that my memory is accurate,” he told investigators in November. “There are a couple of prominent scenes in my head that have come back to me since we last spoke.”

Going slower than the speed limit?

Bostian has not been charged in connection with the derailment, but experts and attorneys have speculated he could face charges ranging from reckless endangerment to manslaughter depending on if investigators find he carelessly erred the night of the derailment. His fellow train operators praised him in the documents, saying he was on “top of his game.”

Documents released today by the NTSB include preliminary findings, but a final report won’t be released until spring. Bostian has been named in a number of lawsuits filed against Amtrak by both injured victims of the crash and family of those who were killed. Lawyers speaking today said of the newly-released documents: “Bostian’s change of testimony is extraordinary.”

The engineer, in his second interview with investigators, said he was actually operating the train 10 m.p.h. slower than what was the posted speed limit, and he remembers pushing the throttle forward to get closer to the speed limit.

“As I approached 70 miles an hour, I have a memory that I took action to bring the train up to 70 miles an hour,” he recalled. “And I have a memory that I realized my mistake, that I should have been operating at 80 miles an hour. And that I pushed the throttle forward in order to accelerate from 70 to 80.”

Recalling steps he took to brake

On numerous occasions throughout his second interview with the NTSB, Bostian says he’s not sure if his memories serve him right, describing a “dream-like” state in which he’s unsure if his memories are coming from that night or trips before.

But despite his fuzzy memory, he seems to recall some events of the night with a specificity missing in in the first interview. He recalls three separate steps taken to try to slow down the train, from a “ten pound” brake application, to a “full service” brake to putting the train in “emergency” mode to get it to stop.

“I can’t tell you with accuracy, with certainty that that was on the night of the accident,” he said about his claim he was trying to increase speed from 70 m.p.h. to 80 m.p.h. “But in my mind, that’s what I believe. That’s when I believe that memory was from.”

He goes on to describe realizing that the train was going too fast into the curve, so he applied “a ten pound application of the brake,” then realized that “this is something that’s very serious and I need to bring down the train speed quickly.” Almost immediately, he says he went “full service” on the brakes and then felt the locomotive “lifting up.”

“And that’s when I realized that it wasn’t that the train was going somewhat fast around the curve. The train was going significantly fast around the curve,” he said. “And that’s when I put the train into emergency. And so the memory I have that may or may not be accurate — like I said, I can’ t vouch for how accurate the memory is.

“But my memory was, my memory is of making three manipulations of the brake control.”

In his first interview, Bostian didn’t mention going 10 m.p.h. slower than the posted speed limit. In the week after the crash, investigators with the NTSB said the train was traveling at more than 100 m.p.h. when it derailed.

What he did say in his first interview with investigators is that he didn’t make a habit out of checking the post speed limits along his Northeast Corridor routes because they were often wrong.

“In my work habits,” he said, “I don’t really look for the speed restriction signs because a lot of times they’ re either missing or they’re the wrong train type or they’re wrong.”

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.