The Slatest

FBI Investigating Possibility that Derailed Train Was Hit by Projectile

NTSB member Robert Sumwalt works on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Photo by NTSBgov via Getty Images

An assistant conductor on Amrak Train 188 is saying the train’s windshield might have been broken by something shortly before its deadly crash in Philadelphia on Tuesday, raising the possibility that the train was hit by a projectile prior to its horrific derailment.

The assistant conductor “believes she heard the … engineer say the windshield was broken by something,” National Transporation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said on Friday.

The New York Times is reporting that Sumwalt said investigators “had found damage to the left side of a portion of the windshield and that they had called on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look at it.”

If the window damage is confirmed, it would be the third train in the Philadelphia region to have experienced that type of damage at around the same time that evening, and it would raise the possibility that the train was struck by a projectile, perhaps intentionally.

A local SEPTA train along the same corridor as Amtrak Train 188 was hit by a projectile that broke the engineer’s window within 20 minutes of the crash of 188. A different Amtrak train near Philadelphia had a passenger’s window cracked at around the same time, and witnesses believed it was also struck by an object.

The odds that three trains would be accidentally hit by projectiles in the same area at the same time seems vanishingly small considering that broken windows from projectiles are such a rare occurrence that the Federal Railroad Administration doesn’t even keep track of them.

“We keep comprehensive safety statistics … but that’s not one of them,” FRA spokesman Michael England told me on Wednesday. “It’s not a common enough occurrence, if it was something that happened frequently enough it would be something statistically that we would collect.”

On Wednesday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said that the two earlier possible projectile cases “may have been rocks or stones,” but that the separate incidents on the other trains had “nothing to do with this particular incident.” The train was reportedly going 106 miles per hour on a sharp curve when it crashed, more than twice the speed limit around that particular stretch. Eight people were killed in the crash and dozens more injured.

Engineer Brandon Bostian told investigators that he felt “fully qualified” at the time of the crash and “reported no problems with his train handling,” according to Sumwalt.

When asked about the possibility that a projectile hit 188 and how common of an occurence it was for Amtrak trains to be hit by projectiles, spokesman for Amtrak Marc Magliari said that the company was “working with those federal authorities in those investigations” and would have to refer questions about potential projectiles to those agencies.