World

Amtrak crash: Unions want 2nd engineer on locomotives for backup

Railroad unions are urging Amtrak to put a second engineer in locomotives in the wake of a deadly derailment last week in Philadelphia.

Train's lead conductor files lawsuit against Amtrak after suffering broken neck, back, shoulders

Emergency workers inspect the engine of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia. Unions want a second engineer aboard trains for safety. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Railroad unions are urging Amtrak to put a second engineer in locomotives in the wake of a deadly derailment last week in Philadelphia.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and SMART Transportation say two engineers would serve as a check and balance on each other.

Engineer Brandon Bostian was alone in the locomotive of Train 188 when it derailed May 12, killing eight people and injuring about 200. Bostian has told authorities he doesn't recall anything in the few minutes before the derailment. He was among those injured.

The unions say Amtrak hasn't had a second crew member in the cab of Northeast Corridor trains since 1983, after Congress ended the requirement.

Also Tuesday, the lead conductor on the train filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey court Monday against Amtrak, seeking unspecified damages for injuries suffered in the crash.

Emilio Fonseca, 33, of Kearny, N.J., is in a Philadelphia hospital with a broken neck, a broken back and two broken shoulders, his lawyer Bruce Nagel told a news conference Tuesday.

Fonseca, who was in a bathroom in the first train car at the time, felt a sudden acceleration and then the crash, his lawyer said.

"There was a sudden surge and then the wreck occurred," Nagel said his client told him.

Despite his injuries, the conductor was able to get out of the train, Nagel said.

Almost a week after the derailment, it remains a mystery what caused the train to accelerate from 113 kilometres per hour to 171 km/h in the minute before the crash. Authorities have not yet ruled out equipment malfunction, human error or other possible reasons for the train gaining speed so rapidly.

Other lawsuits have been filed by an Amtrak employee who was riding as a passenger and by four passengers who filed their action in federal court in Philadelphia.

Grapefruit-sized break

Investigators say they are certain a gunshot did not strike the train before the May 12 derailment, which killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.

FBI agents performed forensic work on a grapefruit-sized fracture on the left side of the Amtrak locomotive's windshield, and the National Transportation Safety Board said they found no evidence of any damage that could have been caused by a firearm.

The developments came Monday as trains began running to New York again for the first time in nearly a week.

Officials raised new questions about the events leading up to the derailment, including a conversation an assistant conductor told investigators she heard between the Amtrak engineer and a regional rail train engineer minutes before the train sped up and went off the rails at a curve.

The assistant conductor said she heard the regional train engineer say he'd been "hit by a rock or shot at" and she thought she heard the Amtrak engineer say his train had also been struck.

No communications

The NTSB said the regional train engineer recalled no such conversation, and investigators listened to the dispatch tape and heard no communications from the Amtrak engineer to the railroad's dispatch centre to say that something had struck the train.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said it doesn't know what caused the damage to its train that night.

Investigators have focused on the acceleration of the Amtrak train as it approached the curve.

The NTSB said Monday it could be a year before it determines the probable cause of the derailment.

Amtrak resumed service Monday with a 5:30 a.m. southbound train leaving New York City.

All Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services also resumed service. Amtrak officials said Sunday that trains along the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston would return to service in "complete compliance" with federal safety orders.

With files from Reuters, CBC

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