Washington city wants Point Defiance Bypass to stay closed until all recommended safety installations are complete

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Amtrak Cascades wreck 2017, National Transportation Safety Board report, Steve Carter photo
A view of the wreckage of derailed Amtrak Cascades Train 501 on Dec. 18, 2017.
Steve Carter
SEATTLE — The city council in Lakewood, Wash., has approved a resolution asking the Washington State Department of Transportation and Amtrak not to reopen the Point Defiance Bypass until all of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations are implemented.

The bypass route runs through Lakewood, a city of about 60,000 people to the southwest of Tacoma, Wash. A December 2017 derailment on the bypass of an Amtrak Cascades train killed three and injured scores of passengers. The derailment occurred farther south on the bypass near DuPont, Wash.

The council resolution, adopted in a June 3 vote, says failure by WSDOT, Amtrak, Sound Transit (owner of the line), and others to implement NTSB’s safety recommendations approved “presents unacceptable safety risks for passenger rail travel in Washington State, as well as unacceptable risks to interstate commerce.”

The resolution itself may not carry much weight. The NTSB can only recommend changes, and cities have virtually no power to regular rail operations within their borders.

But it does convey continued unhappiness on the part of the city with the plans to run trains at high speed through Lakewood.

The News Tribune (Tacoma) noted that the city sued WSDOT in 2013 to halt the plan to use the bypass for Amtrak trains (Sound Transit uses the northern portion for its Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood), but a judge ruled the rail line wasn’t subject to city regulation.

Less than three weeks before the crash, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson warned about the risks the line posed.

"It’s virtually inevitable that someone is going to get killed that wouldn’t be killed otherwise,” he said, according to a transcript from KING-5 News. “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens for very, very, very little, highly subsidized, transportation enhancement.

"While it’s a great project for bureaucrats, it’s a terrible one for the community, and when somebody’s killed, I want somebody from WSDOT Rail back here telling me why they didn’t put in the safety enhancements,” he added.

WSDOT, Amtrak, Sound Transit, and others say some of the NTSB’s recommendations, such as having positive train control in operation, are in place, and they’re working on others. No date has been given for attempting to restart the line. The Amtrak Cascades train that derailed was the first and only revenue run on the bypass.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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