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Inspectors unsure anything struck US train before derailment

May 18, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — U.S. authorities said Monday they’re unsure anything struck the windshield of an Amtrak train minutes before a deadly derailment in Philadelphia last week, adding another twist to the investigation the day the national passenger rail’s trains started running to New York again.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it has not ruled out the possibility an object may have struck the windshield but is uncertain the locomotive was hit at all before the May 12 derailment, which killed eight people and injured more than 200 others. Investigators are certain a gunshot did not strike the train.

FBI agents performed forensic work on a grapefruit-sized fracture on the left side of the Amtrak locomotive’s windshield, and the NTSB said they found no evidence of any damage that could have been caused by a firearm.

The developments Monday raised new questions about the events leading up to the derailment, including a conversation an assistant conductor told investigators she heard between the Amtrak engineer and a regional rail train engineer minutes before the train sped up and went off the rails at a curve.

The assistant conductor said she heard the regional train engineer say he’d been “hit by a rock or shot at” and she thought she heard the Amtrak engineer say his train had also been struck.

The NTSB said the regional train engineer recalled no such conversation, and investigators listened to the dispatch tape and heard no communications from the Amtrak engineer to the railroad’s dispatch center to say that something had struck the train.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said it doesn’t know what caused the damage to its train that night.

Investigators have focused on the acceleration of the Amtrak train as it approached the curve, reaching 106 mph as it entered a 50 mph (80 kph) stretch and slowing down only slightly before the crash.

Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian, among those injured, has told authorities he doesn’t recall anything in the few minutes before the derailment.

The NTSB said Monday it could be a year before it determines the probable cause of the derailment.

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