Thursday, May 14, 2015
Tuesday’s deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia received widespread media coverage. The story was prominently featured on the major network evening newscasts, with all three evening news anchors reporting from Philadelphia. Coverage has largely focused on descriptions of the crash and rescue efforts, and the NTSB’s investigation. At least seven people were killed and more than 200 have been injured in the crash. Reports have heavily cited comments made by NTSB Member Robert Sumwalt, who spoke to reporters about the accident on Wednesday. News sources have also highlighted the fact that the NTSB indicated that the train was traveling about 106 miles per hour, twice the speed limit, when it entered a sharp curve at Frankford Junction where it derailed.
David Muir on ABC World News (5/13, lead story, 5:10, Muir, 5.84M) reported that the speed limit on that curve was 10 miles per hour. In a later segment, ABC World News (5/13, story 2, 2:15, Muir, 5.84M) reporter David Kerley is shown asking Sumwalt whether speed played a role in the accident. Responding to the question, Sumwalt remarked, “Certainly the speed of the train is something that we will be looking at to determine if that was a factor in the derailment.”
Scott Pelley noted on the CBS Evening News (5/13, lead story, 3:55, Pelley, 5.08M) that Tuesday’s accident is the “deadliest” Amtrak crash “in 16 years.” He added that it happened “on the busiest rail corridor in North America.” Later on CBS Evening News (5/13, story 2, 2:40, Pelley, 5.08M), correspondent Kris Van Cleave reported that Sumwalt said that the NTSB’s probe is “increasingly focusing on the speed of the train in the moments right before the deadly derailment.”
The CBS Evening News (5/13, story 3, 1:20, Pelley, 5.08M) aired Pelley’s interview with Sumwalt. During the interview, Pelley asked Sumwalt if there were any signs that “there was any fault in the track itself.” Sumwalt responded, “We will be looking at the condition of the track. We’ll be looking at the traffic control signals to see what they were displaying. We’ll be looking at the mechanical condition of the train. So nothing is off the table. I’d say that everything is on the table right now.” The CBS Evening News (5/13, story 5, 2:10, Pelley, 5.08M) also reported on those who were injured in the crash.
On NBC Nightly News (5/13, lead story, 4:30, Holt, 7.86M), reporter Tom Costelllo said that the engineer has been identified as Brandon Bostian. In an interview with Costello, Sumwalt confirmed that Bostian was traveling 106 miles an hour when turning into the curve at Frankford Junction. Sumwalt added, “Shortly after he entered the curve, he placed train into – basically, put the emergency brakes on the train.”
In a front-page story, the New York Times (5/14, A1, Stolberg, Mouawad, Fitzsimmons, Subscription Publication, 12.24M) reports that investigators have said it is too early to determine “whether the speed alone caused” the accident, adding that they plan to “examine other factors, such as track conditions, throttle and brake settings and alarms in the engineer’s cab.” According to the article, investigators are planning to review the “video from a forward-facing camera mounted on the locomotive,” and interview crew members, including the engineer. Sumwalt is quoted as saying, “As we know, it takes a long time to decelerate a train.” He added, “You’re supposed to enter the curve at 50 miles per hour. He was already in the curve.”
According to the AP (5/14, Mulvihill), Sumwalt said that the train’s engineer “applied the emergency brakes moments before the crash but slowed the train to only 102 mph by the time the locomotive’s black box stopped recording data.” The article adds that Sumwalt indicated that the “speed limit just before the bend is 80 mph.” Additionally, the AP notes that according to the FRA, Amtrak inspected the section of the track where the accident occurred “just hours before the accident, and found no defects.”
In a separate article, the AP (5/13) reports that investigators “recovered the train’s data recorders and said they expected them to yield crucial information.” Sumwalt is quoted as saying Wednesday, “There are many first responders out there. They are working. They are examining the equipment, seeing if there are any more people in the rail cars.” The AP (5/14, Gillum, Bridis) also covers the story in another article.
The Hill (5/13, Hensch, 533K) reports Sumwalt described the crash scene “devastating” and said investigators had started “sifting through the wreckage.” According to the article, Sumwalt said the NTSB investigators’ “initial investigation was crucial for establishing the best framework of Tuesday’s events.”
In a separate article, The Hill (5/14, Hensch, 533K) “Blog Briefing Room” blog reports that on Wednesday, President Obama said the accident was “a tragedy that touches us all.” The Hill (5/13, Hensch, 533K) also covers the crash investigation in another report.
USA Today (5/14, Frank, 5.01M) says that NTSB investigators will examine “everything from the crew’s medical history and pre-crash cellphone use to the functioning of warning signals along the tracks.” It adds that the NTSB is “likely to act quickly in reconstructing the events leading up” to Tuesday’s accident.
The Wall Street Journal (5/14, Mann, Tangel, Maher, Subscription Publication, 5.68M) reports that officials said that about 200 police officers and more than 120 firefighters responded to the crash. The article notes that the accident disrupted Amtrak service for much of the Northeast Corridor.
Meanwhile, CNN (5/14, 3.17M) reports online that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter criticized the train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian. In an interview with CNN, Nutter described Bostian’s actions as “reckless.” Nutter remarked that “there’s really no excuse that can be offered, literally, unless he had a heart attack.” The article notes that “Sumwalt immediately slammed” Nutters’ “comments as inflammatory.” Sumwalt is quoted as saying, “You’re not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that.” He added, “We want to get the facts before we start making judgments.”
Train engineer declines to give statement to police. The Hill (5/14, Hensch, 533K) reports in its “Blog Briefing Room” blog that the train’s engineer “reportedly refused on Wednesday to provide a statement to police.”
NBC News (5/14, 2.54M) reports online that Robert Goggin, the attorney representing Brandon Bostian, the train engineer, said that his client doesn’t “remember exactly what happened when” the train hit the curve and derailed. According to the article, Goggin said Bostian was injured in the accident and had “14 staples placed in his head and suffered a knee injury.”
The New York Daily News (5/14, Paddock, Smith, McShane, 3.79M) also covers the story.
PTC could have prevented crash. The Washington Post (5/14, Zauzmer, Halsey, Shapiro, 5.03M) reports that while technology, known as positive train control (PTC), “is in place in much of the Northeast Corridor,” Amtrak did not install it on the stretch of track where the crash occurred. NTSB Member Robert Sumwalt is quoted as saying, “Had such a system been installed on this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”
Similarly, the New York Times (5/14, A17, Mouawad, Subscription Publication, 12.24M) quotes Sumwalt as saying, “We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.” The article notes that this is “not the first time” that the NTSB has emphasized the importance of PTC, “which it views as one of the top 10 transportation safety issues in the country this year.”
On NBC Nightly News (5/13, story 2, 2:00, Holt, 7.86M), Deborah Hersman, National Safety Council President and CEO and former NTSB Chairman, is shown saying that Tuesday’s Amtrak accident is “exactly the type of incident that PTC is designed to prevent.”
NBC News (5/14, Johnson, Costello, Esposito, McClam, 2.54M) reports online that Amtrak is “required by law to implement” PTC “by the end of the year.” The article notes that the NTSB has “lobbied vigorously for PTC since 1970, declaring it one of the agency’s top priorities.” However, it notes that some Federal lawmakers have sought to delay the PTC deadline “until at least 2020 at the behest of railroads” that have requestion for additional time.
Amtrak accident rate again climbing after decades of decline. NBC News (5/13, Chemi, 2.54M) reports on its website that while “accident rates have been decreasing” in recent decades, “several deadly incidents in recent years have regulators and the public concerned for passengers’ safety.” NBC notes that Amtrak had a “below-average crash rate” in 2012, but the annual rate has steadily grown since, and “are now worse than the national average for all trains and all commuter trains.” There were 18 Amtrak accidents in January and February of this year.
The Washington Post (5/14, Berman, 5.03M) says Amtrak trains derail “every so often, but not as frequently” as in the past. The FRA says there have been about 31 derailments per year over the past decade, “significantly down from the 54 derailments that occurred per year over the decade before.” But “the number of passengers injured on Amtrak trains has risen in recent years.” USA Today (5/14, Jansen, Frank, 5.01M) says Amtrak passenger deaths “are extremely rare,” with just 158 fatalities in the past 40 years.