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Amtrak train sped up for about a minute before crash, NTSB says

When Amtrak Train 188, going from D.C. to New York, derailed in Philadelphia it not only claimed lives and injured hundreds, it shook a city. (Video: Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

The Amtrak train that crashed Tuesday sped up from 70 mph to more than 100 mph in less than a minute before derailing, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

There was no explanation for that acceleration, the NTSB said, but the train’s engineer has agreed to be interviewed by federal investigators.

As the investigation continued, a cadaver-sniffing dog found an eighth victim beneath the twisted wreckage.

Investigators Thursday worked to piece together the train’s final seconds — particularly why it hurtled into a curved section of track at 102 mph, more than twice the posted maximum speed for the bend. Although the engineer slammed on the emergency brakes, it was not soon enough, and the Washington-to-New York train careened off the rails in a jumble of wrenched metal, blown-out windows and bloodied survivors.

NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the train’s forward-looking camera revealed that it was traveling at 70 mph 65 seconds before the derailment. Twelve seconds later, it bumped up to 80 mph, the authorized maximum in the stretch of track before the curve. Twelve seconds after that, it jumped to 90 mph, and 16 seconds later, it accelerated to 100 mph.

“Is that a rapid acceleration?” Sumwalt said. “I think that’s a subjective [characterization]. What’s rapid? What’s not rapid? I just lay the figures out there, let them stand on their own.”

A few seconds into the turn, “we could see the train tilting approximately 10 degrees to the right,” he said, “and then the recording went blank.”

There were conflicting reports Thursday on how forthcoming the train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian, 32, had been when interviewed by police shortly after the derailment. But Sumwalt said Bostian had agreed to speak with investigators in coming days.

In such cases, Sumwalt said he preferred to start off posing no questions but rather presenting witnesses a figurative “blank sheet of paper, and allow them to paint us a picture of what they recall.”

“And then we’ll start asking questions,” he said.

Bostian's attorney, Robert S. Goggin, told ABC News that his client suffered a concussion and has no memory of the few seconds immediately before the wreck that killed eight people and injured more than 200.

He said Bostian was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and his cellphone was off and stored in a bag — per regulations. He also said Bostian consented to give a blood sample to authorities.

Investigators combed the Philadelphia site where a New York-bound Amtrak train derailed after leaving D.C.

“As a result of his concussion, he has absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events,” Goggin told ABC. He said he believes the engineer’s memory may return once the head injury subsides.

Goggin did not respond to calls to his office Thursday.

The discovery of an eighth body Thursday appeared to account for all 243 people on board the New York-bound train, said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D).

The newly recovered body was identified as that of Bob Gildersleeve Jr., 45, of Elkridge, Md.

Two other victims were identified. The family of 47-year-old Laura Finamore of Douglaston, N.Y., confirmed Thursday afternoon that she was among the dead.

The Office of the Consul General of Italy confirmed that Giuseppe Piras, 41, also was killed.

Read the stories of the people who were killed, from a 20-year-old midshipman to a college dean

Meanwhile, attention turned to whether a safety system would have prevented the crash.

Though investigators continued to pursue multiple angles before concluding what caused an engine and seven passenger cars to bolt the track, there was tacit agreement that excessive speed was the primary culprit.

The antidote to that problem — mandated by Congress to be installed by the end of this year — is a system called "positive train control."

“It would prevent the very type of accident that we’re dealing with here,” said Sumwalt, who has been coordinating his agency’s efforts.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, making his first public appearance here since Tuesday’s incident, was more emphatic. “Had it been installed, it would have prevented this accident,” Boardman said.

But the system that would have automatically slowed the train before it headed into a turn at twice its authorized speed is in operation on just 50 miles of the 226-mile route from Washington to New York City.

Boardman vowed that the system would be operational throughout the passenger line’s Northeast Corridor by Dec. 31, but the railroad industry said Thursday that 82 percent of the more than 60,000 miles of remaining railway covered by the federal mandate will miss that deadline.

Appearing at a news conference with Nutter and other officials, Boardman said Amtrak had spent $111 million since 2008 “getting ready” to put the positive train control system in place in the Northeast Corridor. Some testing is still underway, and there are problems with radio interference that need to be resolved before it goes operational later this year, he said.

Amtrak said positive train control is in use on the 156-mile New Haven-Boston leg of the Northeast Corridor. Two other segments south of New York City also are in place and working.

Those are “typically spots where the Acelas and Northeast Regionals reach their top speeds,” according to Amtrak.

Though Amtrak may meet the Dec. 31 deadline set by Congress for its Northeast routes, most of the rail lines in the rest of the country will not meet that mandate. Edward R. Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, said just 18 percent of the 62,364 freight miles subject to the congressional order would be covered by year’s end.

And that 18 percent stretch would be in “limited operation and testing,” according to the association.

“It’s not for lack of resources,” Hamberger said. “It’s not for lack of effort.” The rail industry has asked Congress to extend the deadline to 2018.

He said it costs an average of $50,000 per mile to install equipment on the trains and rail-bed sensors.

“You wonder if Amtrak could have done this more quickly, but still they’re within the legal or statutory deadline,” said David Clarke, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee.

He echoed the NTSB, saying the deadly Philadelphia crash would have been prevented with the system in place on that stretch.

“Boy would it have been nice if we were ahead of the curve,” he said. “That’s easy to Monday-morning-quarterback. I’m not saying anything derogatory about Amtrak.”

Steven Ditmeyer, a former official at the Federal Railroad Administration who helped shape positive train control policy in the late 1990s, said Amtrak has faced numerous challenges.

“I do not think Amtrak bumbled it. They had financing issues. They had to find radio frequencies for their use. But they had been working at it,” Ditmeyer said. “I never heard them say, ‘We need this many additional years.’ They kind of scheduled things out so it would make the mandate.”

The Philadelphia crash comes as financially beleaguered Amtrak faces the prospect that Congress may cut millions from its annual subsidy. Amtrak is also likely to be hit by dozens of lawsuits from families of those killed and injured, leading to settlements or jury verdicts that could result in multimillion-dollar awards.

But Amtrak may be protected from catastrophic financial damages by an earlier congressional action. Eighteen years ago, Congress set a $200 million cap on what Amtrak could be required to pay out for a single incident.

The “aggregate allowable awards” for all defendants “arising from a single accident or incident” cannot exceed $200 million.

For a mass-casualty incident such as Tuesday’s derailment, that’s unlikely to cover all the potential claims, experts said.

“This is going to turn into a huge legal mess for the victims,” said Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School. “Many of them are not going to get compensated adequately.”

Halsey and Laris reported from Washington.Dana Hedgpeth, Colby Itkowitz, Luz Lazo and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

Read more:

The stories of some of the 8 people who were killed

Mapping how the train derailed and what it looked like

72 years ago, a deadly derailment occurred at same Philadelphia spot