Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Train Going 106 MPH Before Engineer Hit Brakes; Amtrak Employees: Brandon Bostian Was Engineer. Aired 7-8:00p ET
Aired May 13, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:13] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. We now know the Amtrak train, the derail outside Philadelphia was speeding at 106 miles an hour when it crashed. We're also tonight learning the identity of the train engineer. We'll going to tell you everything we are learning about him at this moment. That engineer refusing to talk to detectives. Philadelphia's mayor says there's no excuse for his actions. Will he face criminal charges?
And Kim Jong-un executes his own defense minister before a crowd using anti-aircraft guns. What is happening in North Korea? Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight we begin with the breaking news. The Amtrak train that derailed near Philadelphia was speeding big-time. Traveling 106 miles an hour at the time of the crash. More than twice the 50-mile-an-hour speed limit. We are also just learning at this moment the engineer's name from three Amtrak employees. And here's what we can tell you. His name is Brandon Bostian.
Our Drew Griffin is going to have much more on him, he is the man at the center of this in just a moment. The mayor of Philadelphia on CNN calling that engineer reckless, saying, "there's no excuse for the out-of-control speed." We also now know though that Bostian did apply the emergency brakes just before the crash but he only slowed the train down to 102 miles an hour at impact. So, 106 to 102, and then it crashed. You can see the curve where the train derailed. As you can see, it is very sharp. The horrific crash killing at least seven people. More than 200 injured, many of them still in critical condition at this hour. And it is almost 24 hours after this crash but there are still people missing. People hoping that their loved ones will be the miracle story tonight. This surveillance video shows the speeding train at the moment of the crash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you okay? He's calling, okay?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Crawl forward, sir. Keep crawling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Passengers, many of them with broken bones and serious head injuries, were scrambling desperately to escape. Drew Griffin is OUTFRONT in Philadelphia tonight. He begins our coverage. And Drew, the man at the center of this is that engineer. You have now learned his name, you have learned something very, very crucial.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brandon Bostian, he is from Queens, New York. We do know that the police here in Philadelphia tried to speak with him, tried to talk with him, tried to question him. He refused, he has an attorney. The NTSB was a little more mild on that point. They said that they can talk to him once the emotions of this event turn over. But we do know Erin that according to his LinkedIn account he's been an engineer with Amtrak four little more than years. Before that he was a conductor with Amtrak. Described, you know, just a generic description from some of his neighbors, but he, because he was driving this train, is now the focus of this investigation.
BURNETT: We have a picture of him that you were able to obtain, Drew. Obviously, this is him outside of his work uniform. But that is Brandon Bostian everyone that you're looking at next to me, the engineer who should have been in control and charge of the speed of the train at the time of impact. Drew as you mentioned though when he was called in for questioning by police today, it didn't seem that he was cooperating?
GRIFFIN: Yes, he wasn't cooperating. That's according to the Philadelphia police. They brought him into the detectives division. He refused to answer their questions. He did have an attorney with him. And, you know, that got a very strong reaction from the mayor of this town who squarely wants at least the engineer of this train who caused all this to answer the questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Clearly he was reckless and irresponsible in his actions. I don't know what was going on with him. I don't know what was going on in the cab. But there's really no excuse that could be offered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: They need to talk to him for many reasons. There may be an excuse, there might have been a mechanical issue that he was dealing with, we don't know right now although all indications are speed was the problem. Erin, they'll also be looking at what was in his physical body, in his system, whether he was on the phone, was he asleep, along with all the other things they're going to be looking at, including track conditions and anything on the track that might have happened. But again, it was that speed, 106 miles an hour into an area where he should have only been going 50. It seems the engineer is the one person who can answer the question as to why, and right now, he's not answering anything -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Drew Griffin.
Well, we have new details on the investigation right now. And Jason Carroll is also OUTFRONT from Philadelphia with a look at exactly how this happened. What happened, when it happened, and what investigators are looking at right now?
[19:05:05] JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mangled wreckage of the Amtrak Train 188 still strewn on the tracks. The event date recorder recovered from the train's first car has already revealed the train was traveling at least twice as fast as it should have been. One hundred six miles per hour as it entered the corner where it derailed late Tuesday.
ROBERT SUMWALT, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Just moments before the derailment, the train was placed into engineer- induced braking. And this means that the engineer applied full emergency brake application. The train was traveling at approximately 106 miles per hour. Three seconds later, when the data to the recorders terminated, the train speed was 102 miles per hour.
CARROLL: The train, scheduled to leave Philadelphia's union station at 9:10 Tuesday night, derailed about 10 minutes later at 9:21. Passengers say it felt like the train was going too fast as it headed into a left-hand turn, then chaos.
JOAN ELFMAN, SURVIVED AMTRAK TRAIN CRASH: They were thrown out of their seats. One girl slammed into, you know, one of the seats. There are a lot of fractures. You know, arms, shoulders, all kinds of fractures.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I could see the blood on people's faces. They can't move. Their knees were out. So I just tried to do my best to help people get out of that car because it was smoking.
CARROLL: Surveillance video shows a flash the moment of the crash. Mary Row lives near the site and initially thought the bright light was lightning.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My entire room lit up. It was that bright. Took the dog and myself and got out of the house.
CARROLL: Many questions about the train's speed as it headed into that curve. An area called the Frankford junction.
(on camera): Locals call the Frankford junction a notorious curve out here on the rails. The speed limit in this area just 50 miles per hour. At least seven people killed in the crash, including U.S. Naval Academy midshipman Justin Zemser, and Gym Gains, an Associated Press video software architect, he was 48. Hospitals treated more than 200 people, many of them hurt when other people or objects fell on top of them.
ELFMAN: This huge red suitcase just came flying at me. Our train was actually on its side. So it pushed me onto the side of the train. It hit my chest. I think I have a few fractured ribs.
CARROLL: And Erin, right now you're looking at a live picture of the crash. You can see one of the cars still on its side. Investigators will be looking at everything from the track to signals to of course operator error. At least two people among those listed as missing. Mark Gildersleeve, a businessman from Baltimore, he has a 13-year-old son. And then there's also Rachel Jacobs. She is the CEO of a small tech company. She has a two-year-old. Their families desperately hoping that they will be found alive -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Jason, thank you very much. And OUTFRONT now, Andrew Brenner, he was on board that Amtrak train, Train 188, when it derailed. He was sitting in the last car. And Andrew, I know just you know, hearing all this, having to relive what just happened to you not even 24 hours ago, I know you are injured. How are you doing tonight?
ANDREW BRENNER, SURVIVED AMTRAK TRAIN CRASH: Well, you're right, I am a little banged up. But I'm extremely grateful that I'm sitting here with you this evening. It was a very terrifying, terrifying experience. And to think that 24 hours ago I was literally across the street, ready to get on this exact train at union station, and to think back over this last 24 hours, is really just incredible and sad for a number of reasons.
BURNETT: How your life can change so quickly. I know, you know, you've hurt your vertebrae, you've hurt your back. But of course obviously others did lose their lives. I understand why you're grateful. Now, I know you just hear Andrew, the mayor of Philadelphia called the engineer in charge of the train reckless, he says nothing excuses this tragedy, he said maybe if he had a heart attack but they know he didn't have a heart attack. When you hear the train was going a 106 miles an hour and the speed limit was 50 miles an hour where you were on that curve, how do you feel?
BRENNER: The news that I've heard today about the speed and the lack of safety controls that could have been enforced at that section of the railway is nothing short of infuriating. The fact that this was preventable, that seven people who waited in the same exact line that I did yesterday at Union Station in Washington, D.C. lost their lives, that 200 people, myself included, spent the better part of last night in the hospital with injuries that were preventable. And that, you know, this is a tragedy that will likely cost, you know, untold amounts of money that could have been prevented so many different ways. Is just enraging.
[19:10:08] BURNETT: Enraging and infuriating. I mean, of course you feel that way. I mean, could you tell, Andrew, at the time that that train was moving too quickly? Was there anything that seemed unusual to you? I know you've taken this train many times. Was there anything that seemed off or did it just happen?
BRENNER: It really happened so, so quickly. You know, I couldn't tell the difference between going 70 miles an hour or 120 miles an hour on an Amtrak car. But you could tell from where I was that, you know, we took that curve really quickly. And there was some force there. And there was a bump. There was some vibration. And then an immediate jolt. And I flew across the rail car. There were luggage and seats that came unhinged that were flying around. But at the end of the day the car that I was in, most people, even though they were pretty banged up, were okay. There was a lot of really, really good people on the train last night and an incredible amount of help that I think made the situation a lot better than it could have been.
BURNETT: Well, Andrew, I know that you feel lucky and blessed to be where you are and to be alive and back in Washington with your girlfriend and we're glad that you are doing okay. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
BRENNER: Thank you.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, we'll break down how the Amtrak train derailed, how it crashed. This is going to be a second-by-second analysis to try to understand what went so horribly wrong.
Plus, almost 24 hours after the crash, people who were thought to be on the train are still missing. Still missing. They don't know where they are. Is there any hope that some of these people could be alive right now?
And train wrecks and derailments in America are on the rise. It has become much more dangerous. Why?
[19:15:26] BURNETT: Breaking news tonight. We have new details about the moments just before a speeding Amtrak train derailed, killing seven people. We also know the name of the engineer just coming in a few moments ago, Brandon Bostian, a 32-year-old engineer, that was the man in charge of the controls. You see his picture there. Had been an engineer for four years at Amtrak. And before that a conductor. But an engineer is the one who's actually in charge of the speed of the controls of the train. So, our understanding is he would have been the one in charge of that train going 106 miles an hour in a 50-mile-an-hour zone. That's what investigators say, the speed of the train, 106 miles an hour. As I said, double the speed that they were allowed to be going in that area. As investigators comb through the wreckage, we are now learning that Amtrak actually has the technology available to stop trains from speeding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUMWALT: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Brian Todd is OUTFRONT live in Philadelphia at the crash site. And Brian, what have you learned about this? This is a crucial point here. Because this now appears to be certainly caused by speed. Whether, who knows exactly, why but caused by speed. There's a technology that could have prevented it?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin, it's called positive train control. And it is developing now as the crucial factor that really could have played a significant role in the situation. A default system that could have stopped this accident. What we're told about positive train control is that it's a system designed to alert the engineer when the train is moving at excessive speed where there are places of a specific speed limit. It's based on the grade, the contour of the track, and the speed with which the train is going. It's supposed to alert the engineer that the train is going too fast. If the engineer fails to respond to that warning, then the train's onboard computer system takes over and stops the train. We're told that Congress mandated that all rail lines in this region of the country be outfitted with positive train control by the end of 2015. But the NTSB as you just heard has said that it has not been installed in this section of the track near Philadelphia. And you heard Robert Sumwalt say that if it had been, they believe this accident wouldn't have occurred. Erin, that is a huge factor being talked about tonight.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Brian. And even more tragic when you think about that and you just hear that passenger who told us how enraged and infuriated he is that this was caused by speed. Tonight investigators are looking at the engineer's actions. Along with the track. To try to understand why this train, which was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members, was traveling so incredibly fast.
Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT live in the virtual room. And Tom, what have you been able to learn as you piece this together second by second about how exactly this crash happened?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, what we know is that investigators had good reason from the beginning to look at excessive speed. And based on things like these, this surveillance video we've been talking about all day, watch the train rushing by up there. If you know the length of the locomotive, the length of the cars, and you compare them to a fixed point there, you can calculate, and we did very early today, that it was going a lot faster than it ought to be going, 200 yards short of the impact site. Now, why does that matter so much? Think about what Brian was talking about there, about controlling the train. We'll bring in a model here and talk about it. It's all basic physics here. The locomotive on a train like this is very heavy, about 97 metric tons.
That's pushing up toward a quarter million pounds. It's not really that heavy but getting pretty close to it. If it's traveling 50 miles an hour as it should be all of the physics here work out fine. Yes, there is a lot of force pushing it toward the outside of a curve just as there is in a car when you go around a curve like that. But if you push this up to 100, that force gets much, much greater up there. Now up here where you have a low center of gravity with a lot of weight, that may not be such a problem for the engine. But think about what was going on back there. We've had passengers who said they've had the feeling that these cars in the back started lifting up and flying off the track. That's very possible.
With a different center of gravity, the weight higher up in the car. And we know that because we have seen it before. Think about that Spanish train crash. That train was supposed to be going 50 miles an hour. It went over 100. And look at how it just flipped all of the passenger cars behind it off the track and then they pulled the locomotive off behind them. All of this is the physics of a crash like this. And this is why investigators knew from the very beginning that they had to look at this pattern of the wreck itself and the video and say, maybe this train was just going too fast -- Erin.
[19:20:10] BURNETT: All right, Tom. Thank you very much. It's pretty incredible. And it does remind everyone of that crash in Spain, which is a very, very similar situation. Coming in at a similar speed to a curve with the same speed limit. And obviously the fatality rate there was incredibly high.
OUTFRONT now, Matthew Wald, transportation safety expert. So, Matthew, let me ask you, when you hear this, you know, you heard the mayor of Philadelphia, he said this was reckless on the part of the engineer, you just heard the passenger say now he feels enraged and infuriated by this. Does this appear to you at this point to be operator error, I mean, that it was the engineer who made the decision for this train to be going so fast?
MATTHEW WALD, FORMER NEW YORK TIMES TRANSPORTATION BOARD: If it was a decision. He could have been texting or something. It could have been a mechanical problem. It doesn't hurt to wait a couple of days to figure out what the NTSB figures out here.
WALD: There is though Erin the division going on. Which is the police want to question him because they want to prosecute him. The NTSB wants to find out what happened, make sure it never happens again. When you turn this into a prosecution it's harder to get information out of a guy. And as a result, you have trouble gleaning all the information you can and preventing a repetition.
BURNETT: Right. Of course we're showing pictures of him now. We just have his name, Brandon Bostian, the engineer. As our Drew Griffin reported, you know, as you point out Matthew, he wouldn't answer questions from detectives today. But the NTSB may be different as they try to figure this out. But speed Matthew has been a big issue. Right? In Spain, 79 people were killed in that crash.
WALD: It's all within the capability of modern technology to prevent. The train knows where it is, the train knows what the local speed limit is. You could program the train to refuse to exceed the speed limit. We do this with airplanes now in some airplanes. The pilot can give a command and the computer on the airplane will say, hey, boss, you really don't want to do that, and it will refuse to do it. They could have done it in the Germanwings crash. They could have programmed the plane so the plane knows where it is, it knows there's no air field nearby, it will just refuse to go below a certain altitude.
WALD: We don't operate a lot that way but we certainly could.
BURNETT: Yes, we could. Of course that raises its own sets of questions. Then you're using software, and you have hackable issues, and all kinds of things. But in this, when you look at the pictures Matthew as an expert at the derailment, right? The first passenger car decimated, the other six also derailed, three of them end up on their side. Right? So, it almost looks like, you know, Tonka toys in terms of how it happened. But obviously this is all the physics of exactly how this occurred. When you see this crash and you see which ones went on the side, which were flung from the tracks, what does it tell you about the force and the derailment itself?
WALD: Well, it tells you that this train is a lot tougher than the Spanish train. American trains are heavier and tougher. And in a similar accident, you'd rather be on an American train. It also tells you that the energy that you've got in a moving vehicle increases -- doesn't increase linearly, it increases exponentially. This train at 100 miles an hour had four times as much energy as a train going at 50 miles an hour. It also tells you, I don't know what the stopping distance on this train was, NTSB will use a computer program to figure that out. Depends on the grade, depends on the weight of the train, et cetera.
WALD: But usually stopping distances on trains like this are measured in miles. A mile, a mile and a half, two miles, somewhere on that order.
BURNETT: Yes. And of course here, you didn't even have seconds before he hit those brakes. Thank you so much.
WALD: Well, if you listen to Sumwalt carefully, he said that apparently he applied the brakes for three seconds and slowed down by four miles an hour.
WALD: What that tells you is they were committed to this crash long before they hit the curve.
BURNETT: Yes. Well, all right, Matthew, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. As Matthew said, it was going 106 when those brakes were applied, at the time of the crash it was going 102.
OUTFRONT next, several people are still missing in the Amtrak derailment. So, who are they? What could have happened to them? Is it possible that there is a miracle here?
And this is at least the tenth Amtrak train to run off the rails this year. This is a number that's pretty terrifying to many. Why?
[19:28:04] BURNETT: Breaking news on the deadly Amtrak train crash. We have just learned the name of the engineer at the home of the train, you're looking at him now, Brandon Bostian, 32-years-old, we have his name according to several Amtrak employees, he's been an engineer with Amtrak since the year 2010 which means he's the one in charge of the controls for the train. Prior to that, he was the conductor for Amtrak for four years. We know Bostian has hired a lawyer, he has refused to speak to detectives today. This as the National Transportation Safety Board just revealed that the train was going 106 miles an hour. That is more than twice the speed limit which was 50 miles an hour on this curve.
Investigators say Bostian applied the emergency brakes but literally it was already essentially at impact. It slowed the train down from 106 to 102 miles an hour before all seven train cars derailed. First responders pulled passengers who were bloodied and injured from the wreckage. Seven people lost their lives in this horrible crash. More than 200 were injured. Eight are still in critical condition. And there are still passengers that are missing, that are unaccounted for. There are families hoping for a miracle tonight, hoping maybe somebody had a head injury, hasn't been able to contact their family.
Erin McLaughlin is OUTFRONT in Philadelphia. And Erin, I know, you've been trying to find out more about these missing passengers. What have you been able to figure out?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erin. Well, authorities say they are still searching for the missing. While they haven't given an exact figure, we know of at least one passenger still unaccounted for. That according to his friends and colleagues. Forty five-year-old Robert Gildersleeve was dropped off at a train station in Baltimore by his wife. He has two teenaged sons. He was set to catch Amtrak 188 and was never seen again. Now, we do know that at least seven people died in this tragedy. Authorities have yet to release their identities. They say that they are working to try and notify all next of kin first. And it's unclear if Gildersleeve is one of them. His family saying they certainly hope he's not among the dead -- Erin.
BURNETT: So, Erin, what I'm trying to understand, I think a lot of the people watching, you buy a ticket for a train under your name, it's scanned when you get on board. How is it that they still don't know who was on the train? That they don't exactly know who's missing?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, authorities are pointing to several potential factors. First of all, the impact was so severe that it actually expanded the search area. They think it is possible some of these passengers could have been actually ejected from the train. They also say it's possible that someone who had a ticket for the train never actually boarded. And they also say it's possible that someone could have simply walked away without notifying authorities -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Erin, thank you very much.
And OUTFRONT tonight, Beth Davidz. She survived the Amtrak crash. She was sitting in the third car of the train.
And, Beth, thank you. I know it has been a hard day. I know, it's been a hard day. I know it's hard for you to tell this story, and you're exhausted. I mean, let me start with what our viewers are going to see. I
mean, you have a black eye. You're injured.
BETH DAVIDZ, SURVIVED AMTRAK TRAIN CRASH: Right, yes. Yes, so I was in the third car. I was the third car back. I mean, what I felt, my experience, I was on a phone call. I hung up. It felt like a normal, you know, train ride. And then, suddenly, the car just felt like it was tipping.
At first, you think it's just a big curve. Then it's the moment that you know you're actually falling off the rail. Then, it's kind of -- it was a molt of blackness as you're being thrown around like a rag doll in the dark.
BURNETT: That's how it felt was just -- what were you thinking? Were you thinking, this is it end for me?
BURNETT: Were you trying to survive? What went through your head?
DAVIDZ: There's nothing you can do in that moment. It was a few seconds that felt like a long time. You could hear pounding. I remember -- pounding in the back of my head. I was like, maybe this is -- I mean, the moment that like we came to rest, it was like, I'm alive. We can deal with this, and just being thankful.
That's when I could hear all the other passengers. The woman next to me, she was facing my legs, she was trapped underneath the seats. And another woman, she was kind of stuck kind of outside the window in the dirt. So some people are looking for help, some people are looking for their phones.
I mean, eventually, we did find an exit through the windows, which at first, maybe we should wait for first responders. Or, you know, what can we do to help other people? But, I mean, it started to fill with smoke.
BURNETT: You were afraid?
DAVIDZ: Yes, someone said like, you know -- people were really helpful to each other and calm. Stay calm. We need to get out of here. I helped somebody up, somebody helped me. We climbed up to the top. We were a good eight feet up. And then you just kind of have to do a jump-down.
I mean, I felt lucky I had one shoe and my phone. Then I was kind of like, where do I go from there? That's about the time the first responders got there.
I mean, you can see from the scenes that the first cars, it was just -- I just felt lucky we were even crawling out.
BURNETT: You felt lucky to be alive. When you hear now what we're learning, the speed, we don't yet know why, we don't know why. The mayor of Philadelphia said the train's engineer was reckless and irresponsible. We're just learning a little more about him. We don't know why he was going so fast.
But when you were on that train, talking to a passenger, he said you were all in line together. Seven people in that line are dead.
BURNETT: Others might be. We don't know. They're missing.
BURNETT: How does it make you feel when you hear that?
DAVIDZ: I mean, in general, throughout the whole experience, I mean, you're getting on the train. It's totally just your normal, regular commute that you may do.
But I mean, like after the crash, everybody -- I mean, you knew you went through this moment together. As for what it was, I've heard so many theories now, that it might have been some kind of -- something that hit the train at this speed, the engineer. I can't say what that is.
I mean, I'll reserve judgment because it makes me feel like, you know, it could be multiple causes. End of the day, I'm just, you know -- I feel like a lot of us we're not at the point of blame. It's much more just being glad to be here.
BURNETT: Glad to be alive.
DAVIDZ: Yes, so --
BURNETT: And to see your family. It must have been wonderful when you came home.
DAVIDZ: Yes, getting to talk to everyone. Seeing your (INAUDIBLE) crying and being happy at the same time. And the day's been there.
It goes from like this moment of like life and death to like this moment of like, I have no money, what do I do? How do I deal with logistics? My laptop's gone. You know what? That's life, I guess. So --
BURNETT: Well, thank you so much.
DAVIDZ: You're welcome.
BURNETT: I hope you get some rest and get better. I know your eye and your body and the side of your face, you've got some recovering to do. Thank you.
DAVIDZ: Thank you.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, deadly train crashes are on a sudden rise in the nation's busiest rail corridor where this tragedy happened.
[19:35:03] Is too much traffic overloading the system? We have a special report.
And North Korea's defense minister reportedly executed because he fell asleep during a ceremony, executed in the stadium in front of people. Why is Kim Jong-un killing so many of his top officials?
BURNETT: Breaking news at this hour: investigators continue to search the wreckage for missing passengers aboard last night's train that derailed in Philadelphia. Seven are confirmed dead. But as I said, many are still missing. This is just one of several deadly train crashes in the past year. Railroad deaths in America are actually shockingly on the rise. You probably feel incredibly safe on a train. This may surprise you.
Well, Suzanne Malveaux has a special report OUTFRONT.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tuesday's Amtrak crash is just the latest in a string of horrifying accidents on U.S. rails.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, I went from one side of the train to the other side of the train.
MALVEAUX: According to the Federal Railroad Administration, on average, there have been 31 Amtrak train derailments a year of varying degrees since 2006.
[19:40:05] So far, there have been nine this year prior to the most recent incident. And while Amtrak owns and operates about 80 percent of the 457 miles of track between Washington and Boston, called the Northeast corridor, some of the most recent fatal crashes have involved commuter trains operated by others.
In February, just north of New York City, a Metro North commuter train slammed into a vehicle that was stopped on the tracks, killing the driver and six commuters. In December 2013, federal safety officials say a Metro North train jumped the tracks in Bronx, New York, as it barreled around a curve, traveling three times the posted speed, killing four.
With more than 11 million passengers traveling along the Northeast corridor, between Washington and Boston each year, it has become one of the busiest, most complex, and technically advanced rail systems in the world.
Engineering professor George Bibel says while traveling by train is largely safe passengers should be more concerned about the state of the tracks than speeding engineers.
GEORGE BIBEL, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA: While most derailments are caused by equipment error, rail problems are a common one. The rails can fracture from metal fatigue or they can move around and shift or anything else that moves. Common ones are wheels, bearings, axles.
MALVEAUX: Coincidentally, the site of Tuesday's crash in Philadelphia is in the same area where the nation saw one of its deadliest train accidents in history. In 1943, a train traveling from Washington to New York went off the tracks, killing 79 people.
MALVEAUX: Like so many people who live and travel along the East Coast, I'm very familiar with the Northeast corridor, take Amtrak all the time. For many years, the trend had been a sharp decrease in fatalities traveling by rail. But in recent history, the Federal Railroad Administration has seen a reversal. Last year, the total number of all railroad fatalities was 813. That is 20 percent higher than just three years ago -- Erin.
All right. Suzanne, thank you very much.
And joining me now OUTFRONT, Andrew Maloney. He's litigated a number of transportation related accidents, including the deadly Metro North railroad derailment that was just mentioned in Suzanne's report. He represents the victims in these cases.
When you look at this, we're now hearing speed, we know the engineer who would be the one in charge of the controls, the one in charge of the speed. We know his background. Four years as an engineer, four years before that as a conductor who would collect tickets. So, eight years at Amtrak we understand, 32 years old.
What are they going to be specifically looking at to determine if he is to blame?
ANDREW MALONEY, TRANSPORTATION ATTORNEY: Well, the NTSB is pretty good at looking at the human factors when they investigate accidents, aviation, train, other kinds. They're going to look at any medication. They're going to look at his sleep patterns to find out if he had sleep issues. The engineer in this derailment in the Bronx claimed to have sleep issues and may have zoned out or been asleep at the throttle when he accelerated too fast and took that turn in the Bronx.
So, similar issues are going to be hooked at here for him. And they're going to have to determine. You know, we've seen some crazy things lately with the pilot of Germanwings. I'm not suggesting there's depression here but they'll have to look at all those things.
BURNETT: They'll look at all that. When you say they're looking at the phone. They're not just looking into whether he was texting or making calls, they're going to be looking at, you know, were you using your phone for video games?
BURNETT: They will be able to figure all that out, you're saying.
MALONEY: Yes, I know that they -- technology's there, if they have his cell phone, they can not only looking for texts and whether he was making a call, but whether or not a person is using it to search Web sites or play video games.
BURNETT: The mayor of Philadelphia is outraged by this. Outrage is a fair word.
Let me play for you exactly what he had to say about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D), PHILADELPHIA: Clearly, he was reckless and irresponsible in his actions. I don't know what was going on with him. I don't know what was going on in the cab. But there's really no excuse that could be offered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He went on to say there could be no reasonable, rational explanation for why you're doing 106 on a 50-mile-an-hour rated curve. Would you agree?
MALONEY: Yes, I'd have to agree. I think we're less than 24 hours out, we need to hear from him and from his side --
BURNETT: What he has to say. Of course, he's refused to talk so far so we don't know. But he will at some point.
MALONEY: He will at some point have to issue a statement or a statement on his behalf. So, I'd like to know what he has to say about that.
But certainly, the evidence is mounting against him. It looks pretty bad. It looks like it was reckless.
BURNETT: In Spain, they charged the engineer with more than 70 counts of homicide in that horrific crash. What would be the charges here?
MALONEY: They'd be looking at a manslaughter type charge, reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide. Not the same as murder but certainly lesser included offenses, similar to a driver who drives his car 100 miles an hour through a school zone and hits pedestrians.
[19:45:03] BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Andrew. Appreciate your time.
And OUTFRONT next, a top North Korea general reportedly executed in front of a crowd, a large crowd in a stadium by anti-aircraft guns, one in a series of brutal executions in the dictatorship. What is happening to Kim Jong-un?
And they were mothers, fathers, there was a son. People just heading home on the train, thinking about nothing. Except for what was on their phone, getting home to see their families. Ahead, we're going to remember those who lost their lives so awfully and unfairly in this crash.
BURNETT: North Korea executes its defense minister. This is according to the South Korean spy agency. They say he was shot by anti-aircraft guns. Just imagine this -- anti-aircraft gun to kill an individual human being. And this was done in front of a crowd, in a stadium, just a latest in a series of executions a senior officials carried out by the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.
What is happening?
Elise Labott is OUTFRONT.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A public execution of one of the North Korea's high officials. South Korean intelligence says that Kim Jong-un had his defense minister, Hyon Yong Chol shot by anti-aircraft guns as hundreds of North Korean elites watched.
[19:50:07] The reason? Being disloyal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a big deal. He was a survivor.
LABOTT: Hyon was a loyalist who spent years working under Kim's father to become North Korea's second highest military officer.
South Korean lawmakers who attended an intelligence briefing about his death tell CNN Hyon was accused of second guessing Kim's orders, even dozing off during military events.
JEFF RATHKE, ACTING STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: These disturbing reports, if they are true, you know, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime.
LABOTT: It's not the first time the North Korean leader has eliminated his rivals, as he struggles to consolidate power.
New satellite images show a public execution also by anti- aircraft machine fire of a group of people sometime last October.
In 2013, Kim killed his own uncle, Jang Sung-taek, once a member of his inner circle, for treason.
A North Korean defector tells CNN, Kim then poisoned his aunt for complaining about her husband's execution.
South Korean intelligence says Kim had 15 top regime officials killed this year alone, charges a top North Korean official dismissed as, quote, "malicious slander", in an interview with CNN's Will Ripley.
But news of Hyon's execution comes as Kim backed out of Vladimir Putin's massive military parade marking the end of World War II. Russian officials say it was for internal reasons.
Could fear of next prompt one of Kim's inner circle to kill him or stage a coup?
Kim's firm grip on power makes that difficult, but not impossible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we see these sort of very high ranking people bumped off like this, there might be a group who feel they are better off under a different leadership.
LABOTT: And experts say that fear of being assassinated could have kept Kim from traveling to Russia this weekend. Hyon's execution is the latest in the personnel shuffles, which is plaguing the top levels of North Korea's military. U.S. officials say Kim does seem to be in control right now, but these actions show he's not a leader confident in his position. He's still trying to establish himself in a very volatile political situation, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Elise. Fascinating and just disturbing.
Joining me now, North Korea expert, Gordon Chang, the author of the book "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World".
Gordon, you are talking about the defense minister. That has to be one of the top jobs in the country that is completely defined by its defense. It's executed by anti-aircraft guns, guns designed to take down planes, let's just put in English here, in front of hundreds of people in a stadium. Why?
GORDON CHANG, NORTH KOREA EXPERT: What he is trying to do is instill fear because he doesn't control the military. He doesn't control the regime. He's put to death 84 people so far and that is many more than his father during the same period in his rule.
And we know things are going to get worse because blood demands blood.
BURNETT: So, you think we're just going to continue to see this purging. How does he get people to go along with it if he's not secure in his power? How do you get hundreds of elites to show up in a stadium to watch somebody get murdered by anti-aircraft missile?
CHANG: Well, of course, the regime is coercive so you can do that.
You know, some of these people, Kim may have ordered them but I think that essentially what's going on is you got regime elements who are out to settle scores, so they kill others in the name of Kim Jong- un. We really don't know what's going on. There are so many possible explanations.
But this really is bad because the worse sign of instability is continuing purges, because if Kim Jong-un were secure, he wouldn't be --
BURNETT: He won't need to be killing all these people.
CHANG: Yes, at this curious pace.
BURNETT: All right. So, there is a photo at his father's death, September 2011. There were seven palm bearers, one of which was Kim Jong Un himself. Seven pallbearers at this funeral, OK? Are they all now dead except for him? Murdered?
CHANG: Or disappeared from public view.
BURNETT: And this was the inner circle of his father. These were the people that were supposed to be the ones that wanted him to take over.
CHANG: You know, you would expect Kim Jong-un to move his father's loyalists out to put his own people in. Kim Jong-un did not have enough time to really build up his circle before his father died unexpectedly, so it was sort of in the cards for these people to be moved out, but maybe not so brutally and not so fast.
And what's happened is, even that group has gone, they've continued to execute people and the continuing executions is what really should worry outside observers.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Gordon Chang. It's sobering and incredible. Let's just see what will happen here there in North Korea.
Next, that routine turning tragic in a blink of an eye, how quickly a life can change. Next, we'll remember the lives that are now forever gone.
BURNETT: And back to our top breaking story of the night, the deadly Amtrak derailment. It was supposed to be business as usual. Two hundred thirty-eight people getting in line, government officials, students, business executives, they were just trying to get on when the last trains out, most of them to get home, some of them to head to a new life, went to New York from D.C. after a long day, going along Amtrak's busiest stretch of rail in the United States.
And then suddenly, there was chaos. Hundreds of lives have forever changed and at least seven have been taken too soon. At this hour, we know the names of four of the at least seven victims.
Here are the ones we know: Justin Zemser was a 20-year-old U.S. Naval Academy midshipman. He was from Queens, New York.
Forty-eight-year-old Jim Gaines was a video software architect with the "Associated Press". He once won the company's geek of the month award. He was returned home to his wife and his two children in Plainsboro, New Jersey.
Abid Gilani was a senior vice president with Wells Fargo, and their hospitality Finance Group. He was based here in New York.
And the final name we know tonight, Rachel Jacobs. So, for so much of today, she had been on the list of the missing. Her family hoping for a miracle. They now confirm that she did not survive. She was the CEO of a small tech firm. She is survived by her husband and 2-year-old son.
Tonight, we remember all of them and hope that among those still missing, there will be a miracle.
"AC360" begins now.