Amtrak CEO vows to improve safety following fatal ‘Cascades’ wreck

RELATED TOPICS: PASSENGER | WEST | AMTRAK | DERAILMENTS | SAFETY
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The scene at DuPont, Wash., on Monday morning, just after sunrise, as first responders worked to free victims from the wrecked train.
Washington State Patrol via AP
TACOMA, Wash. – A day after three people were killed aboard an Amtrak train in Washington, CEO Richard Anderson promised to improve safety on the passenger railroad and implement any recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board in their investigation into the wreck of train No. 501.

“This is a wakeup call and it is not acceptable to have these types of accident,” Anderson told reporters during a press conference in Tacoma on Tuesday evening. “We must get to the bottom of this, figure out what happened and make it sure it never happens again.”

Meanwhile, NTSB investigators were trying to figure out why Amtrak Cascades train No. 501 was going more than twice the posted the speed limit moments before it derailed near Olympia Monday morning. Three people were killed and dozens of people were injured when the train went off the tracks shortly after 7:30 a.m.

Late Monday night, NTSB Member Bella Dinh-Zarr said investigators had recovered the event data recorder from the rear locomotive. Preliminary data showed the train was traveling at 80 mph moments before it entered the curve where it derailed. According to officials with Sound Transit, the Seattle-area commuter rail operator that owns the track, the curve has a 30 mph speed limit.

On Tuesday, Dinh-Zarr said investigators had recovered the event data recorder from the lead locomotive, a Siemens Charger, as well as footage from the in-cab camera. Dinh-Zarr said the inward and outward facing cameras were being sent to Washington, D.C., so that investigators could figure out what was going on inside the cab of train No. 501 in the minutes before the wreck. Investigators said there were two people in the cab at the time of the derailment: an engineer and a conductor on a qualifying run.

Investigators also determined that the train’s emergency brake was automatically engaged when the train left the track and that the engineer never touched it. Dinh-Zarr said investigators planned on interviewing the engineer and other crew members in the coming days.

Another angle investigators are looking at is how much training the crew had gotten on the new Point Defiance Bypass, a 14.5-mile detour that brings Amtrak trains away from Puget Sound and toward the Interstate 5 corridor. Monday’s train was the inaugural run on the bypass. Investigators will also try to determine if positive train control could have prevented Monday’s derailment. Amtrak and other railroads have until Dec. 31, 2018, to install the safety technology but it had not yet been implemented on the Amtrak Cascades route. During Anderson’s press conference in Tacoma, reporters peppered the CEO with questions about PTC and why it had not been in use on the Cascades route. Anderson explained that it was a complicated process but noted he was a “huge believer’ in the technology. “There is no one that wants positive trains control more than Amtrak,” he said.

On Tuesday, train No. 501’s locomotives and cars were moved from the crash site to a nearby military base where the NTSB would continue its investigation. Washington State Department of Transportation officials were warning that the cleanup at the wreck site would not be complete until at least Wednesday morning and that the southbound lane of Interstate 5 would remain closed until then.

Meanwhile, Amtrak resumed service between Portland and Seattle utilizing the Point Defiance route. Due to equipment shortages, starting Thursday, the Cascades between Eugene and Portland, Ore., would utilize substitute equipment and would not have food service, checked baggage service, business class or bikes. Nos. 505 and 508, which were scheduled to operate as thru service between Eugene and Seattle, will now operate only between Seattle and Portland. New trains Nos. 515 and 510 will be introduced on the segment between Portland and Eugene and will be a cross platform connection at Portland for passengers traveling north of Portland. The amended schedule is expected to last until at least Jan. 2.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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