The engineer at the helm of a deadly Amtrak train derailment in Washington state in December didn't recognize the curve he was approaching until seconds before the wreck, according to new details released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The engineer and conductor, who were in the lead locomotive during the December 16 accident, were unable to be interviewed until recently due to their injuries.
Both the engineer and a qualifying conductor again emphasized that they had not been distracted or exhausted in speaking with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.
He said he felt rested and alert before the start of his shift on the day of the accident and was aware of the 30 miles per hour speed restriction on the curve just prior to mile marker 20. But he did not recall seeing milepost 18 or the 30-mph advance speed sign two miles before the curve.
The train - which consisted of a leading and trailing locomotive, a power vehicle, 10 passenger cars and a luggage auto - was traveling at 78 miles per hour when it derailed from a highway overpass near DuPont.
He told the investigators he recalled seeing mileposts 16 and 17 but did not remember seeing the sign for milepost 18.
The engineer, who has been with Amtrak since 2004, completed seven to 10 observational trips while he was qualifying on the Point Defiance Bypass section of the track.
Two of those trips were driving northbound, the NTSB said.
The summary involved interviews with the engineer and conductor, which took place about a month after they suffered serious injuries in the wreck.
The engineer also told investigators that he was not distracted by the qualifying conductor with him in the train, and that he felt well rested before his shift.
He told the NTSB he looked down at his copies of general track bulletins just before the crash. In the final moments of the derailment, the conductor said he heard the engineer mumble something and sensed that the train was becoming "airborne".
The conductor told investigators that there was minimal conversation during the trip because he was looking at paperwork to learn the territory.
In the coming weeks, investigators will compare the crew's accounts with video captured form the inward- and outward-facing locomotive cameras, information from the locomotive event data recorder and other sources, NTSB officials said in a press release.
The conductor of the train was a 48-year-old male, hired by Amtrak in 2010 as an assistant conductor and promoted to conductor in 2011.
The investigation is expected to last 12 to 24 months, NTSB officials said.