Federal investigators said Friday they are examining damage to the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia earlier this week to see if it was struck by an object before the fatal crash.
An assistant conductor, riding in the train's cafe car when it crashed, told investigators she heard a regional train engineer in the area say over the radio that his train had been "hit by a rock or shot at" and had its windshield broken, said Robert Sumwalt, a National Transportation Safety Board member in charge of the investigation. In the same conversation, she said she believed she heard the Amtrak engineer tell the other engineer that the Amtrak train -- Northeast Regional Train 188 -- had also been struck by something.
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The 39-year-old assistant conductor, who was not named, said she heard the conversation between the Amtrak engineer, Brandon Bostian, and the engineer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority about three or four minutes after the Amtrak train left the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Sumwalt said at a news briefing Friday.
"Right after she recalled hearing this conversation, between her engineer and the SEPTA engineer, she said that she felt rumbling and her train leaned over and her car went over on its side," Sumwalt said.
His team has seen damage to the lower left-hand portion of the Amtrak train's windshield and has asked the FBI, at the scene since the crash, to look at it, Sumwalt said. Bostian was sitting on the right side of the car. Sumwalt said, however, investigators have not confirmed anything hit the Amtrak train.
SEPTA does not yet know what caused the damage to its train that night, said Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The Amtrak train from Washington to New York was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members when it derailed shortly before 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
A little more than a minute before the fatal crash, the train was speeding up to above 70 mph, then above 80 mph, then 90 mph, finally exceeding 100 mph, investigators said. Seconds before the derailment, Bostian slammed on the emergency brakes before entering a sharp curve, investigators said.
The train, which was traveling at 106 mph, more than twice the speed limit, didn't slow much before it jumped the tracks.
The crash killed eight passengers and injured more than 200 others. NTSB investigators Friday also interviewed a second assistant conductor who was on the derailed train as well as Bostian, 32, of Forest Hills, Queens.
Bostian, however, told investigators he couldn't remember anything that happened after his train passed the North Philadelphia station, including any conversation with the regional transit engineer, Sumwalt said. Investigators Friday could not provide the distance between that station and the crash site.
"He recalls ringing the train bell as he went through the North Philadelphia station. That's not a normal station stop for him, but he's required by regulations to sound his bell as he goes through past the station stop, and he did that, and recalled doing that," Sumwalt said.
Bostian told investigators he did not feel tired or ill at the time of the derailment and he was comfortable with the equipment. "When asked, he demonstrated a very good working knowledge of the territory," Sumwalt said.
The second assistant conductor, a 35-year-old man who was in the seventh and last passenger car, said there were only radio troubles before the crash, Sumwalt said.
Investigators have said it is too early to know whether speed alone caused the crash.
Over the weekend, investigators plan to reassemble as much of the train as possible, then connect the brake lines and conduct a brake test.
Investigators have not been able to speak to the conductor, who remained hospitalized Friday night.
With Robert E. Kessler
and The Associated Press