WASHINGTON – Five years ago, federal accident investigators recommended that the government require video cameras in locomotive cabs to record engineers’ actions. But it didn’t happen. Now, that’s left a gap in unraveling last week’s fatal Amtrak derailment.

It’s an old story for the National Transportation Safety Board. Accidents occur, people die and there is a clamor for action. Later, when attention moves elsewhere, recommendations frequently lag for years. Some are never realized.

In the Amtrak crash, the train was equipped with a “black box” data recorder and a camera focused on the track ahead. Information from those devices shows that in the last minute before the crash the train accelerated rapidly, reaching 106 miles per hour just before entering a curve where the speed limit was 50. Maximum braking power was applied in the last few seconds, but it was too late.

The train derailed, leaving eight people dead, about 200 injured and a mangled mess of rail cars. Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York didn’t resume until Monday.

What investigators would like to know is why the train accelerated. Was it a deliberate act by the engineer? An accident? Or was there some other reason?

Questions have arisen whether the Amtrak locomotive was hit by a projectile as it passed through Philadelphia. An engineer for a local commuter railroad reported being hit by something shortly before the crash, and a conductor on the Amtrak train has told investigators she heard the Amtrak engineer, Brandon Bostian, say over a radio that their train had been hit as well.

NTSB said Monday that the FBI has concluded no bullet struck the train, and the board is uncertain whether it was hit by anything.

Bostian, who suffered a head injury in the crash, has told investigators he can’t remember anything after leaving Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, the last stop before the derailment, until after the crash.

It’s exactly the kind of circumstance that the NTSB’s recommendation for inward-facing video and sound cameras was supposed to address.

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