The engineer involved in the deadly Amtrak 188 derailment that took the lives of eight people has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. The charges were announced by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on May 12, after local prosecutors declined to charge the engineer for his role in the 2015 Amtrak train crash. Along with eight charges of involuntary manslaughter, the engineer also faces charges of reckless endangerment and one count of causing or risking a catastrophe.
2015 Amtrak Train Crash Initially Blamed on Lack of Situational Awareness
On May 12, 2015, eight people died and around 200 more were injured, including 185 who were taken to local hospitals, when Amtrak Train 188 derailed at around 9:30 p.m. in Philadelphia. The commuter train was traveling to New York City from Washington D.C. and carried 245 passengers, five on-duty Amtrak employees, and three off-duty Amtrak employees.
According to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the train derailed at milepost 81.62 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after it entered a curve known as the Frankford Junction. The speed at that curve is limited to 50 miles per hour, but the train was traveling at 106 miles per hour, more than double the limit. As the train entered the curve, the engineer—Brian Bostian—applied the emergency brakes.
In a move that angered critics, the NTSB blamed the 2015 Amtrak train crash on a loss of situational awareness. Because Bostian accelerated the train in a manner that was consistent with how he generally accelerated the train, the NTSB concluded he was not incapacitated at the time of the accident.
“[Bostian] lost his situational awareness because his attention was diverted to an emergency situation with a nearby SEPTA train that had made an emergency stop after being struck by a projectile,” the NTSB concluded. “This type of situation could be addressed by better crewmember training that focuses on preventative strategies for situations that could divert crewmember attention.”
The NTSB also noted that positive train control, which has since been implemented in the accident area, could have prevented the accident. Meanwhile, passenger safety standards on the train were deemed inadequate because some windows in the passenger cars shattered in the accident, allowing passengers to be ejected from the train.
Among the recommendations made by the NTSB in the wake of the 2015 Amtrak train crash were that all locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments be outfitted with audio and image recorders, that railroads train crewmembers in strategies to manage concurrent tasks and situations that pull their attention from train operations, and that railroads install devices to help crewmembers identify their current location in case they lose situational awareness.
Bostian was reportedly an admired engineer with a good record at the time of the crash. He has stated he has very little memory of the crash or the moments leading up to it. The NTSB found no evidence Bostian was using drugs or alcohol, nor that he used his cell phone or had a medical condition.
“This shows that any human on even their best day can make a mistake,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “That’s the reason [positive train control] is so important: because humans make mistakes.”
It may never be known exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the train derailment that may have caused Bostian to accelerate into the Frankford Junction, but what is known is that not enough safety measures were in place to protect the lives of the people on board the train.
Eight Passengers Killed in Train Crash
Among those who died in the accident were:
- Laura Finamore (47), senior account director at Cushman & Wakefield
- Jim Gaines (48), Associated Press video software architect
- Abid Gilani (55), an employee at Wells Fargo
- Bob Gildersleeve (45), vice president of Ecolab
- Derrick Griffith (42), a dean at Medgar Evers College
- Rachel Jacobs (39), CEO of ApprenNet
- Guiseppe Piras (41), wine and oil executive
- Justin Zemser (20), Naval Academy midshipman
Local Prosecutors Declined to Charge Amtrak Engineer
After investigating the case against Bostian, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he would not press charges because he did not have evidence that Bostian acted with criminal intent or had criminal responsibility for the accident. The family of one of the victims, however, pushed for charges to be filed and Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield found sufficient cause to order the charges be filed. The case was then referred to Shapiro’s office.
Among the arguments made by the family of Rachel Jacobs in support of filing criminal charges against Bostian, was that he knew the route well, was familiar with speed limits on the route, and had to have known that accelerating the train would put people’s lives in danger.
“Bostian understood the risks…and disregarded them,” said Mike Walsh, who was on Train 188 during the crash. “The subsequent death, injury, and destruction are for him to explain.”
The new charges, which were filed only hours before the statute of limitations ran out, could see Bostian face up to 10 years in prison.
Amtrak Settles Lawsuits
In 2016, Amtrak agreed to pay $265 million to settle claims filed by people injured in the 2015 Amtrak train crash and the families of people killed. Those lawsuits alleged that Amtrak’s decision not to activate positive train control was a factor in allowing the crash to occur, putting the lives and safety of hundreds of passengers at risk.