Feds give Washington state nearly $40 million to replace Talgo equipment

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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. The passenger cars in the picture were made by Talgo.
Steve Carter
SEATTLE — The Washington State Department of Transportation has been awarded a $37.5 million Federal Railroad Administration grant to replace three state-owned Talgo 6 trainsets used on Amtrak Cascades service, including one damaged in the December 2017 derailment that killed three passengers.

FRA said the grant was made through its Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair program. The Washington grant was one of 10 announced this week, totaling $272 million.

The state department said the train sets will be purchased through Amtrak’s 2019-2020 national equipment replacement contract.

“By participating in this national procurement process with other states that sponsor passenger service, [the state transportation department] will be able to leverage the buying power of both Amtrak and other states,” the department said.

Under that contract, one bidder will be selected to provide various configurations depending on what each state asks for, department representative Janet Matkin says.

FRA said the new passenger cars “will provide flexible train car capacity, reduce infrastructure lifecycle costs for the Amtrak Cascades fleet, and improve onboard amenities.”

The $37.5-million grant will pay for 50% of the cost of replacing the trainsets, Matkin said. The balance will come from insurance proceeds from the trainset lost in the derailment, and from state funding.

The replacement trainsets will be delivered in the mid-2020s. In the meantime, Amtrak is looking for temporary equipment to replace Talgo 6 trainsets currently in service.

Amtrak Cascades service operates on the north-south corridor from Vancouver, B.C., through Seattle and Portland to Eugene, Ore. The service operated with seven trainsets: three Talgo 6 sets owned by the state of Washington, two Talgo 6 sets owned by Amtrak and two later-model Talgo Series 8 trainsets owned by the state of Oregon. The Washington and Amtrak Talgo Series 6 trainsets were delivered in 1998.

The Talgo 6 came in for pointed criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the trainset involved in the crash, saying the trainset involved “did not meet current crashworthiness standards and was only permitted to operate through a grandfathering agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration, was structurally vulnerable to high-energy derailments or collisions.”

Among its recommendations to Washington state: “Discontinue the use of the Talgo Series VI trainsets as soon as possible and replace them with passenger railroad equipment that meet all current United States safety requirements.”

Talgo has disputed the contention that the Talgo 6s are unsafe, noting (in a response to questions earlier this year the equipment “has been in service every day for 21 years with a superior safety and reliability record…. Series VI equipment that is even older than the WSDOT and Amtrak owned equipment is running all over the world.”

Also lost in the derailment was a Siemens Charger locomotive. Matkin said a new Charger locomotive will be delivered by September 2020 as a replacement.

The derailment occurred near DuPont, Wash., between Tacoma and Olympia, Wash., on a line known as the Point Defiance Bypass, when an Amtrak Cascades train took a curve with a posted speed limit of 30 mph at nearly 80 mph. The bypass, to be used by Amtrak’s Coast Starlight as well as the Cascades service, is an inland route designed to reduce congestion on the water-level route used by both BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. Opening the line was to allow adding more daily trains to the Cascades service.

Amtrak Cascades 501, the train that derailed, was the first revenue service on the line. Immediately afterward, trains were shifted back to the existing route. Positive train control, which wasn’t operating on the line at the time of the derailment, is now ready, but as of now no date has been set for reopening the Point Defiance Bypass.
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