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June 10, 2015

Amtrak engineer "not using cellphone": U.S. investigators

Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian does not appear to have been using his cellphone on May 12 when his passenger train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200 others, federal investigators said on Wednesday.

"Analysis of the phone records does not indicate that any calls, texts, or data usage occurred during the time the engineer was operating the train," the National Transportation Safety Board said in an investigation update.

"Amtrak’s records confirm that the engineer did not access the train’s Wi-Fi system while he was operating the locomotive."

But the investigation continues. NTSB said investigators are still trying to determine whether the phone was in “airplane mode” or was powered off. They have been examining the phone's operating system, which contains more than 400,000 files of "meta-data."

"Investigators are obtaining a phone identical to the engineer’s phone as an exemplar model and will be running tests to validate the data," the NTSB said.

The derailment on May 12 killed eight people and injured more than 200.

Bostian, who suffered a concussion, has been at the center of an intensive effort by federal officials to identify a probable cause for the mishap. Investigators have examined a range of evidence that could suggest either human error or a mechanical malfunction.

The engineer told investigators that he cannot remember anything after passing through a Philadelphia rail station moments before the accident.

But in recent weeks, lawmakers and administration officials have turned their attention more to the human factor, saying that little or no evidence has emerged of a problem with the locomotive or the track.

Officials with the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates passenger and freight rail travel, have pointed to the train's speed as a sign of possible human error.

The Amtrak train derailed along a northbound curve in Philadelphia while traveling at more than twice the 50 mile-per-hour speed limit.      

At a hearing last week in the House of Representatives, lawmakers expressed frustration to NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart over the safety agency's inability weeks after the mishap to decipher Bostian's phone use.  

Hart said that while Bostian was cooperative and provided his cellphone password, investigators who examined phone records found complicated issues because the voice and text services were on different time zones.  

NTSB had to correlate time stamps in the engineer’s cellphone records with multiple data sources including the locomotive event recorder, the locomotive outward facing video, recorded radio communications and surveillance video.