Trains Top 10 stories for 2017: No. 4, THE 501 CRASH

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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
WAUKESHA, Wis. — The Dec. 18 crash of Amtrak Cascades train 501 is a story that safety investigators and historians are just beginning to write.

We know so little: The southbound train was on its inaugural run on the Point Defiance bypass when it over sped on a curve and derailed onto Interstate 5. Three passengers died in the crash. Positive train control was not a factor because it had not been installed. We also know from the National Transportation Safety Board that six seconds before the derailment, the engineer on the train noted an "over speed condition" and applied the train's brakes — but not an emergency application.

The similarities between this crash and the May 2015 Northeast Regional No. 188 crash in Philadelphia are too close for comfort. And investigations may draw unflattering attention to Amtrak, operating crews, and the politics of how routes are engineered.

For the jaw-dropping spectacle of a dismembered trainset strewn across a U.S. Interstate highway and for the existential questions it poses for a nation uncertain about the place of passenger railroading in daily life, Trains editors name the 501 crash the No. 4 story of 2017.

Trains editors will present the Top Ten stories of the year in reverse order starting Dec. 21 and finishing on Dec. 30.

Read previous years' Top Ten stories online.
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