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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: National Transportation Safety Board, public domain

May 16, 2015 (Philadelphia)—What caused an Amtrak passenger train bound for New York from Washington D.C. to derail in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood, killed eight passengers and injuring 200 people?

Reuters reports that the train may have been struck by a bullet, rock or other projectile shortly before the crash. The FBI has been called in to examine a round hole in the windshield, a National Transportation Safety Board inspector told Reuters.  Two other trains are also believed to have been struck by projectiles in the vicinity.

The engineer survived the crash but has suffered a concussion and memory loss. It is unknown why the train sped up prior to the crash. 

The train had sped up to 106 mph in an 80 mph zone going into a curve one minute before the deadly crash. The speed limit in the curve is 50 mph. The engineer, Brandon Bostian, did apply the emergency brake, but not in time to stop the locomotive and all seven cars from leaving the track, with several cars flipping onto their sides.

A safety system called positive train control that could have prevented the crash had been installed on the tracks but was not yet operational due to budget shortfalls and right-of-way disputes.  Had it been operational, the system could have controlled the train’s speed automatically. National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt has said that if the system was operational in that section of track, “This accident would not have occurred.” 

Ironically, one day after the fatal crash, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee in Congress passed a bill to cut $260 million from Amtrak’s budget, drawing criticism from Democrats for jeopardizing public safety.

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