Washington closes Point Defiance route to passengers pending PTC installation

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This overall view shows cars off both sides of the tracks at the Interstate 5 bridge near DuPont, Wash., on Monday, Dec. 18.
Steve Carter
SEATTLE — Following this week’s fatal Amtrak Cascades derailment, officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation say they will not let passenger trains run on the newly built Point Defiance Bypass until it is equipped with positive train control.

On Monday, three people were killed and dozens more were injured when Amtrak train 501 derailed near Olympia, Wash., on its inaugural run on the new 14.5-mile bypass that takes trains away from Puget Sound. The train was travelling at 80 miles per hour when it entered a curve posted at 30 miles per hour.

Until PTC is installed on the Point Defiance Bypass — which is owned by Sound Transit and was completed earlier this year — Amtrak Cascades trains will use the old route along Puget Sound. Barbara LaBoe, spokesperson for the state transportation department, tells the Seattle Times that while the original route also does not have PTC, engineers have been running trains on it much longer.

No timeline has been set for PTC installation on the route, but Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said at a news conference earlier this week in Tacoma, Wash., that it would happen before the federally mandated deadline of Dec. 31, 2018.

During Anderson’s remarks 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 train control more than Amtrak,” he said.
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