Summary: The NTSB’s First Report.

If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that the National Transportation Safety Board will find out what happened to Amtrak train 501 and why. Their investigations can take weeks, even months, but their reports are thorough, detailed and complete.
The NTSB held the first of what will no doubt be several news conferences on Tuesday and most of the time was devoted to a detailed explanation of the process the investigators will be going through.
Next came the highlights of what had been determined up to that point … just facts, no conclusions.

  • There was an event data recorder and a video camera at the front of the train as well as a data recorder located at the rear. All have been sent to the NTSB lab for analysis.
  • To familiarize operating crews with what was a new route, non-revenue trains had been sent on test runs over the exact route for several days prior to the first regularly scheduled train, the one that derailed on Monday morning.
  • There were two people in the locomotive cab at the time of the accident: the engineer and a conductor who was there to familiarize himself with the route. (This is normal procedure. No conductor or engineer can operate a train without being thoroughly familiar with the route to which he or she has been assigned.) From what was said at the briefing, it doesn’t sound to me as though the second person in the cab was a “trainee”, as has been reported in some media.)
  • The NTSB spokesperson confirmed that their investigators would likely be on the actual scene of the accident for another 7 to 10 days.
  • The operating crew had not yet been interviewed, but will be “in the next couple of days” or as soon as their medical condition permits. The cel phones of all crew members have been turned over to the NTSB for analysis. This is standard procedure following any serious accident.
  • The NTSB woman doing the briefing did confirm that the train was “apparently” exceeding the speed limit when the accident occurred.

The progress of the investigation can be followed by going here to the NTSB website. Of course, although it’s unlikely, should I hear anything more or different, I’ll post it here.