The FBI is investigating whether the Amtrak train that derailed near Philadelphia earlier this week was hit by a projectile shortly before the fatal crash, National Transportation Safety Board officials said Friday.
The Amtrak passenger train derailed Tuesday night in Northeast Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. The crash took place between Wheatsheaf Lane and Frankford Avenue, an area where vandals routinely pellet passenger trains with rocks and other objects, officials said.
NTSB investigators interviewed three out of five crew members who were aboard the train that night. One of the conductors told the NTSB that she heard the engineer in charge of the Amtrak train talking with a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority engineer shortly before the crash.
The conductor told the NTSB that she heard the SEPTA engineer tell the Amtrak engineer that his train had been “either hit or shot at” and that he was going to stop his train. The conductor then heard what she thought was an impact on the Amtrak train shortly before the crash, officials said.
NTSB member Robert Sumwalt told reporters that there was "damage to the left-hand, lower portion of the Amtrak windshield."
The 32-year-old engineer was also interviewed Friday with his attorney present. He was described as cooperative and as telling investigators that the last thing he remembers is ringing his bell as he went through the North Philadelphia station, Sumwalt said.
At the time the train left the tracks, it was going 102 mph, or more than twice the allowed speed on the curve, officials said.
On the night of the derailment, at least two passenger trains traveling through that area reported being hit with projectiles. Some 30 minutes before the crash, another Amtrak train was struck on a coach window, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
One of the passengers on board, Madison Calvert, said the train was stopped for Amtrak police to document the damage, and then continued on its way.
Shortly afterward, a SEPTA train was forced to stop some two miles away from the site of the derailment after someone threw an unknown object at the train, cracking the upper left corner of the engineer’s windshield, a SEPTA spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
“This is an area where at least once a week vandals throw projectiles at trains,” said Jerri Williams, the SEPTA spokesperson. “We don’t know who is doing it. Most likely it’s children." Williams said that, as of Friday, there was “nothing that would connect the projectile incident with the derailment.”
She added that the SEPTA Police and Safety departments were looking into the act of vandalism as part of a routine inquiry, but that SEPTA’s investigation was not related to the crash. She also said that the Philadelphia Police Department sometimes assists SEPTA on vandalism investigations, but that the municipal police was not involved in this case.
The Philadelphia Police Department referred all questions to the office of Mayor Michael Nutter. A spokesperson for Nutter referred all questions to SEPTA. Amtrak did not respond to a request for comment.