Investigators looking into whether Amtrak engineer lost 'situational awareness' ahead of derailment

The derailed Amtrak train near Seattle.
(Image credit: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

An employee training to be a conductor was in the locomotive of the Amtrak train that derailed Monday morning near Seattle, and investigators are looking into whether having this person on board distracted the engineer and caused him to lose "situational awareness," a federal official told The Associated Press Tuesday.

The locomotive's event recorder shows the train was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone when it ran off the rails, and National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr told AP it appears the emergency brake went off automatically, and was not manually activated by the unidentified engineer. It is too early to know why the train was going so fast, Dinh-Zarr added, and the engineer and other crew members will all be interviewed. The train was on the inaugural run of a high-speed route between Seattle and Portland.

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