Judge Marsha Neifield of Philadelphia Municipal Court issued an order saying Brandon Bostian could be charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Attorney Thomas Kline, who had sought the private complaint on the Jacobs family's behalf, said the charges wouldn't have happened "had a courageous family, the Jacobs family, not stood up against the decision of a local prosecutor not to press charges".
After Neifield's order, Cameron L. Kline, communications director for the district attorney's office, said in a statement: "Judge Neifield has ordered the filing of two private criminal complaints as a result of the Amtrak train 188 derailment".
The judge ruled that charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment can be brought against Bostian, both as misdemeanors.
Earlier this week the Philadelphia district attorney said while it was clear the derailment was caused by speeding, there was not enough clear evidence to file criminal charges.
Philadelphia prosecutors released a statement Thursday indicating that they will refer Bostian's prosecution to the state's attorney general to avoid a conflict of interest.
In addition to the eight people killed, more than 200 people were injured in the crash.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said Bostian accelerated to full-throttle as the New York-bound train traversed a straightaway through North Philadelphia.
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Amtrak has accepted responsibility for the crash and agreed to pay $265 million to settle related claims.
However, the NTSB concluded that nothing struck his locomotive and victims' lawyers had questioned why Bostian would have sped up, rather than slow down, if he had been startled by something striking the train.
The district attorney says there was no evidence Bostian acted with criminal "intent" or criminal "knowledge". He said he was left disoriented or unconscious when something struck his train before it derailed. However, federal safety investigators concluded that nothing struck the train prior to it crashing.
That, according to lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi who also represents victims, should not give him a pass.
Court records list addresses for Bostian in New York City and in Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston.
"The private complaint mechanism exists for cases where the police can't make an arrest and, arguably, for cases where they won't but they should", Epstein said.
"Can you imagine someone driving down Market Street", Sprague said, "at 100 miles per hour, hitting people, killing people, and the DA saying, "We don't have a basis for prosecuting anybody"?"
The second-degree felony charge that Brandon Bostian faces carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. They found no evidence he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or distracted by a cellphone.