Local government insists on full safety recommendation implementation before Point Defiance Bypass re-opened to passengers

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SEATTLE — The Pierce County Council has passed a resolution calling on Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, Sound Transit, and other agencies not to reopen the ill-fated Point Defiance Bypass line to passenger service until the full menu of recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board is put in place.

WSDOT and Amtrak haven’t set a date for when Cascades service might be moved to the segment of track between Tacoma and Olympia, Wash., where a passenger train derailed Dec. 18, 2017, killing three and injuring dozens. The council’s action doesn’t carry any force behind it, since it’s not a regulatory agency with control over the line.

But it does reflect official unhappiness over the extent and pace of safety remedies being put in place.

“The safety of all those traveling in Pierce County is of paramount concern to the Pierce County Council, which finds the failure of the entities named above to implement the safety recommendations approved by the NTSB would present unacceptable safety risks for passenger rail travel in Pierce County,” the resolution says.

“Pierce County opposes the restoration of the Amtrak Cascades line using the Point Defiance line” until those responsible for its operation “fully implement the safety recommendations” adopted by the safety board.

In addition to Amtrak, WSDOT and the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit, owner of the line), the resolution cites the U.S. secretary of transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense Fire and Emergency Services Working Group, and the Oregon Department of Transportation as agencies responsible for putting the NTSB recommendations into place.

The council made the NTSB’s summary of proposed actions a part of the resolution. In addition to positive train control, which wasn’t operating on the line at the time of the derailment, the safety board also proposed phasing out older Talgo Series VI trainsets, which it says contributed to the severity of injuries, as soon as possible. WSDOT has said it plans to do so.

The News Tribune (Tacoma) editorialized in favor of the resolution.

“When asked if local governments could halt restoration of the bypass route, [WSDOT spokeswoman Janet] Matkin said, ‘You have to remember, there’s a difference between a recommendation and a requirement.’ We say, ignore them at passengers’ peril.”

But the newspaper also supported the idea of eventually returning passenger service to the line.

“Eliminating the longtime railway bottleneck along Puget Sound is still a good idea,” the paper said. “And the $181 million that’s been poured into this 18 miles of track should not become another monument to government waste, aka a ‘bypass to nowhere.’”

The resolution comes the same week as trial commenced in suits filed against Amtrak by three passengers on the train that derailed. The suits are being heard in federal court in Tacoma, housed in the city’s former railroad passenger station.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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