The engineer in a deadly train derailment in Philadelphia does not remember the crash, his lawyer said, complicating the investigation into why the Amtrak passenger train was going more than twice the allowed speed when it shot off a sharp curve.
With an unidentified eighth body found in the wreckage, it was the deadliest US train accident in nearly six years. The Philadelphia mayor said all passengers and crew were now accounted for.
Questions grew about why a track technology that would have prevented the train from going over the speed limit on Tuesday night had not yet been installed as planned.
The 32-year-old engineer, Brandon Bostian, has so far refused to speak with police.
“He remembers coming into the curve. He remembers attempting to reduce speed and thereafter, he was knocked out,” Robert Goggin told ABC. He said the last thing Mr Bostian remembered was coming to, looking for his bag, retrieving his mobile phone and calling for help.
Mr Goggin said his client, who suffered a concussion and had 14 staples in his head, was distraught when he learned of the devastation. He said his client “co-operated fully” with police and immediately consented to a blood test and surrendered his phone. He believes his client’s memory is likely to return once the head injury subsides.
The derailment happened along the country’s busiest rail corridor between Washington and Boston, where the national passenger railway carries 11.6 million passengers a year. Amtrak suspended all services until further notice along the Philadelphia-to-New York stretch, forcing thousands of people to find other ways to travel.
The train was moving at 106mph (170kph) before it ran off the rails along a sharp curve where the speed limit drops to just 50mph (80kph), federal investigators have said.
The engineer applied the emergency brakes moments before the crash but slowed the train to only 102mph (164kph) by the time the locomotive’s black box stopped recording data, said Robert Sumwalt, of the National Transportation Safety Board. The speed limit just before the bend is 80mph (128kph), he said.
Despite pressure from Congress and safety regulators, Amtrak had not installed along that section of track a technology that uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to prevent trains from going over the speed limit. Amtrak had said it expected to finish installing positive train control technology throughout its Northeast Corridor by the end of 2012.
“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” Mr Sumwalt said.
Mr Sumwalt said federal accident investigators want to talk to the engineer but will give him a day or two to recover from the shock of the accident.
Mayor Michael Nutter told CNN there was “no way in the world” the engineer should have been going that fast into the curve and called him “reckless and irresponsible”. Mr Sumwalt said Mr Nutter’s comments were “subjective” and said investigators are not making any “judgment calls”.
More than 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured in the crash. Passengers crawled out of the windows of the toppled rail cars, many of them with broken bones and burns.
Dr Herbert Cushing, Temple’s chief medical officer, said 16 of the injured remained in hospital and eight remain in critical condition. He said all are expected to recover.
The mayor said some people were unaccounted for but cautioned that some passengers listed on the Amtrak manifest might not have boarded the train, while others might not have checked in with authorities.
Amtrak inspected the stretch of track on Tuesday, just hours before the accident, and found no defects, the Federal Railroad Administration said.
Besides the data recorder, the train had a video camera in its front end that could yield clues to what happened, Mr Sumwalt said.