BY GEOFF MULVIHILL and MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
PHILADELPHIA — Brandon Bostian was obsessed with trains while growing up, talked about them constantly and wanted to be an engineer or a conductor.
“He would go on vacation and bring back subway maps,” Stefanie McGee, a friend from Tennessee, recalled Thursday. “He would go places with his family and he would talk about the trains instead of the places.”
Bostian’s teenage dreams would come true. But now, at 32, the Amtrak engineer finds himself at the very center of the investigation into the nation’s deadliest train wreck in nearly six years.
He was at the controls of a train that investigators say entered a sharp bend at 106 mph, or twice the speed limit. Eight people were killed and more than 200 injured in the derailment Tuesday night in an industrial section of Philadelphia.
In yet another curious turn in the investigation, Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that the train sped up in the last minute or so before the wreck, accelerating from 70 mph to over 100 mph.
He said it is not clear yet whether the speed was increased manually. So far, investigators have found no problems with the track, the signals or the locomotive, and the train was running on time, Sumwalt said.
Investigators want to know why the train was going so fast. But Bostian refused to talk to police on Wednesday, authorities said. On Thursday, Sumwalt said that Bostian had agreed to be interviewed by the NTSB and that the meeting will take place in the next few days.
Separately, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said it is investigating and will decide whether to bring charges.
Bostian’s lawyer, Robert Goggin, told ABC News that his client suffered a concussion in the wreck, needed 15 staples in his head and has “absolutely no recollection whatsoever” of the crash. Goggin also said Bostian had not been using his cellphone, drinking or using drugs.
As the death toll climbed on Thursday with the discovery of what was believed to be the last body in one of the mangled railcars, Mayor Michael Nutter again appeared to cast blame on Bostian, questioning why the train was going so fast.
“I don’t think that any commonsense, rational person would think that it was OK to travel at that level of speed knowing that there was a pretty significant restriction on how fast you could go through that turn,” Nutter said.
Officials believe they have now accounted for all 243 passengers and crew members who were thought to have been aboard, Nutter said. Forty-three remained hospitalized Thursday, according to the mayor. Temple University Hospital said it had six patients in critical condition, all of whom were expected to pull through.
Amtrak, meanwhile, said limited train service between Philadelphia and New York should resume on Monday, with full service by Tuesday. Amtrak carries 11.6 million passengers a year along the Northeast Corridor, which runs between Washington and Boston.
Bostian graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s in business administration and management in 2006, the university said. He became an Amtrak engineer in 2010, four years after landing a job as a conductor, according to his LinkedIn profile. He lives in the Forest Hills section of Queens, in New York City.
Old friends and college classmates described him in glowing terms.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Brandon,” said Will Gust, who belonged to the Acacia fraternity with Bostian in college. “He is a very conscientious person, one of the most upstanding individuals that I know, just a really good quality person.”
McGee, the friend who is now city clerk in Bostian’s hometown of Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis, said he “talked about trains constantly” while growing up and always wanted to be an engineer or a conductor.
On Tuesday, the job Bostian loved so much had him operating Amtrak’s Train 188 from Washington to New York.
“He remembers coming into the curve. He remembers attempting to reduce speed and thereafter he was knocked out,” said Goggin, his attorney. But Goggin said the engineer does not recall anything out of the ordinary and does not remember applying the emergency brakes, as investigators say was done.