On Tuesday, 12 March 2015, Amtrak Northeast Region train 188 from Washington DC to New York City derailed at Port Richmond Junction, Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring over 70. The train was travelling at approximately 102 mph in a 50 mph section when it derailed on a left-hand curve.
The Engineer driving the train, 32-year-old Brandon Bostian, survived although he had to be taken to hospital to receive 14 staples to a laceration to his head. Bostian stated at the time that he had no recollection of events prior to the accident.
As soon as he was identified, the right-wing press and religious fanatics in the USA discovered he is gay, a gay rights activist, put two and two together and came up with five. Brandon’s sexuality and his gay rights activism are now being openly blamed for the crash, by people who know nothing about him, about train operations, and have pre-empted any enquiry into the incident.
Top hatemonger is right-wing blogger Charles C Johnson, who stated “Gays have a higher rate of mental illness than do straights. You decide if engineer’s homosexuality is worth noting. I report it.
“It is reasonable to ask if this night shift #amtrak188 train driver was on meth or had history with it, given gay proclivities to it.”
In fact, even before it was discovered the Engineer was a white gay man, Johnson immediately surmised that he may have been an African-American, and thereby somehow incapable of driving a train.
“Affirmative action hiring low qualified blacks is more often to blame for train derailments than poor infrastructure.”
“We need the name and race of the conductor. I’m offering $400 to first person to get it to me exclusively.”
Seems that Johnson thinks that African-Americans on the railroads are only fit to be porters and should all be referred to as “George”, after George Mortimer Pullman, as was once the case across the USA. And of course, I would just love to see his peer-reviewed scientific evidence that gay men are more likely to suffer mental illness that heterosexuals.
Sandy Rios of the American Family Association stated she was not claiming that Bostian being gay was the cause of the crash, then inferred exactly that;
“Now I am not saying, I am not inferring to those of you that are gay rights activists and like to monitor this show, I’m not inferring that this accident happened because he was gay, but I do think it’s an interesting part of the story and you can bet it would be edited out,”
Rios said then tried to parallel the case with a transgender person she claims to know, whom she claims was “going through some confusion that has to do with the very core of who they are,” Rios continued, “Someone I know who worked for a very large airline started taking hormone shots and put his entire plane at risk because he had an emotional, angry outburst to something that happened,”
If Sandy Rios does indeed know a transgender person, which I sincerely doubt, I do hope they slap the stupid out of her for her apparently thinking Brandon Bostian had a ‘gay hissy fit’, and explains to her that gay does not equal transgender, the two are different things, and gay men tend not to take HRT.
Here in the UK, the right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail screamed from their headlines “Engineer REFUSED to give interview to investigators”, and of course had to highlight that Brandon Bostian was gay and a gay rights activist.
More than 200 right-wing sites have reported that Brandon Bostian is gay, all claiming that his sexuality was somehow a factor in the crash, ranging from him being incompetent but employed because of his sexuality, through to claims that he was depressed and decided to commit suicide, taking as many people with him as possible. The most bizarre comment I read was from someone claiming that because Amtrak are state-owned, it was all a conspiracy to kill as many innocent Christian Americans as possible. There’s some real whackos out there.
Funny how everybody is an expert all of a sudden. Just so happens that I am dears. As surprising as it may seem, I have driven trains in my time. In fact, on a local preserved railway, I have not only driven diesel trains, I have even on a few occasions driven steam trains, which are very hot, dirty, smelly – and one of the most wonderful fun things in the world.
So here’s a few facts about Brandon Bostian and Amtrak 118.
Far from being “incompetent” employed purely because of his sexuality, Brandon Bostian has in fact been an Engineer with Amtrak for the past five years, with no previous incidents. Four years prior to that he worked with Amtrak as a Conductor.
The Los Angeles Times picked up this old post from Brandon’s Facebook account;
“At work, I run through a five-item checklist after I inspect my engine and before I touch anything. Then a 10-item checklist before I move the train an inch, and another four-item list at every station stop. So I guess it’s no surprise that I keep a checklist for packing a bag for an overnight trip.”
Does that sound like an incompetent to you?
Brandon Bostian has a record of criticizing Amtrak for not having methods of automatic train protection in place. He has posted his concerns about this on several industry message boards, including this one from Trainorders.com:
“At any point over the previous EIGHTY years the railroad could have voluntarily implemented some form of this technology. I wish the railroads had been more proactive in adopting active signaling systems from the get-go. (The) reality is that they have had nearly a hundred years of opportunity to implement SOME sort of system to mitigate human error, but with a few notable exceptions have failed to do so.”
Brandon is absolutely correct, and I am somewhat disturbed that the US rail network does not have such a system in place. As far back as the 1920s, here in the UK the Great Western Railway developed the railway Advanced Warning System (AWS), which was greatly improved as technology increased. AWS is common across the UK rail network today and works by interactive exchange between signals and driver. One electromagnet between the rails will send a signal to the cab, causing a bell or buzzer to sound. The driver then has 3 seconds to hit a button, and if s/he fails to do so, an automatic brake in the train, which cannot be overridden by train crew, comes on.
The more advanced system Brandon Bostian favours is Positive Train Control (PTC), which computer-driven and uses GPS real-time positioning. Under PTC the on-board computer would “know” track conditions, signalling and speed restrictions ahead, and automatically alter the speed, independent of the driver. One day trains will have nobody in the cab but one person and a dog. The person will be there to feed the dog – and the dog will be there to keep the person away from the controls.
Brandon has also on occasion posted about the stress train crews are put under;
“Everyone wants an extension to hours of service to avoid inconvenience, but what will you say when the crew that’s been on duty for longer than 12 hours accidentally falls asleep and passes a stop signal and rear-ends a loaded hazmat train, killing dozens or hundreds of people? A crew is probably not any less safe after 12 hours and one minute than they were a few moments ago, but you have to draw that line somewhere.”
Preliminary findings by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have postulated that Brandon hit the emergency brake before the derailment occurred. The section before the curve had a 70mph speed limit, dropping to 50mph in the curve. The last recorded speed was 102mph.
Robert Sumwalt posted on the Board’s Twitter feed, “Moments before derailing, train was placed into “engineer induced braking,” with full brake application.”
Having looked at a grainy CCTV image of the derailment, and the pictures of how the carriages are strewn across the tracks, I would be strongly inclined to agree with Sumwalt on that. I don’t usually like to speculate, but it seems to me that Brandon Bostian suddenly discovered he was way over the speed limit, panicked, and hit the emergency brake.
In fact, I would go further and state that in all probability it was this sudden braking which caused the train to derail. Ironic as it seems, had Bostian just rode the curve in excess of speed, then brought the brakes on slowly, that would probably have been the safer course of action. This is why in the olden days Guards were in charge of trains, not drivers. That fool up front was just there to drive the damned thing, but the Guard was the person trained in bringing a train to a controlled stop if necessary.
And strange as it may seem, the train derailing may have saved lives. If the emergency brake was hit, then passengers can think themselves lucky that the train was on a curve, causing it to derail. Had it happened on a straight section, the carriages would have been much more likely to “concertina” into each other, with much greater potential for fatalities.
Brandon Bostian initially refused to talk to investigators without an attorney present. Once he had an attorney he fully co-operated with the NTSB. Given that he cannot recall anything prior to the crash, no reasonable person could call this course of action anything but reasonable.
Brandon’s attorney, Robert Goggin, told ABC News that his client not only fully co-operated with police, but even offered up access to this blood, and addressing the claims of some that he may have been texting or on the internet, that he offered up his cellphone;
“Among other things, they indicated that they wanted to get a search warrant for his blood, which we consented to. He said, ‘You don’t need a search warrant, happy to give it to you.’ It had already been drawn at Einstein Hospital. They asked for his cell phone, which they had. [We] said, ‘Have it. Take all the information you want. You don’t need a search warrant for that either. We’ll give it to you.’ I’m assuming [authorities asked for the phone] because they want to see whether he was on the telephone at the time of the accident. So he’s cooperated, and not only that, he’s indicated that he would make himself available to the police if they need any more information.”
Goggin also stated that his client was devastated at the crash;
“The television was on in the police district, and the constant count and recounting of the incident was being broadcast in his face all morning, and he was distraught”
I usually post stories of the LGBTQI community being accused of all sort of things as humour. On this one, I cannot do so. I am merely sad and angry. There are no winners in this. Certainly not for the 8 dead, or the loved ones who are left to grieve them.
Neither does Brandon Bostian win in this. He is a lifelong train fanatic who was living his dream job. This derailment will of course be deeply investigated, and if Brandon was indeed found to be at fault, he faces the possibility of prosecution and imprisonment. Even if he is not, he has to live the rest of his life with eight deaths on his conscience. I know some train drivers, and they will tell you that even if it’s one life, it is with them every time they climb into the cab, and it never leaves them. For a train fanatic like Brandon, this tragedy must be tearing him apart.
Unlike the haters, and unlike those who know diddly-squat about train driving, I am not going to cast judgement on Brandon Bostian, for the simple fact I was not there and I don’t know what happened.
And of course, neither do Charles C Johnson, Sandy Rios, or the rest of the homophobes, who may voice their mock outrage and cast all sort of accusations, pretending to care about the dead and injured. Of course, they do not; they merely saw an opportunity to attack a gay man and jumped on it. And in doing so, far from respecting those who died in the crash, they are doing them a gross dishonour by abusing those deaths to promote their own bigotry.
Within hours of the crash, Brandon Bostian blacked out pictures of himself on social media, and is said to be extremely upset at his face being plastered all over the media. I therefore choose to respect his wishes and shall not be posting any photographs of him.