Talgo challenges NTSB finding in 'Cascades' accident report (updated)

Manufacturer says it was blocked in effort to participate in investigation, submit evidence
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Equipment manufacturer Talgo is challenging the NTSB report that faulted the equipment involved in the December 2017 wreck of an Amtrak Cascades train and led to a recommendation that the trainsets be removed from service.
Steve Carter

SEATTLE — Passenger equipment builder Talgo has formally challenged a National Transportation Safety Board finding that led to a recommendation that four Talgo trainsets be removed from Amtrak Cascades service.

The company is challenging the NTSB’s finding that the trainset involved in the Dec. 18, 2017, derailment of Cascades train No. 501 was non-compliant with Federal Railroad Administration crashworthiness regulations, and that its design contributed to the fatalities and injuries in that crash. Three passengers were killed in the accident at DuPont, Wash., which came on the first run over the Point Defiance Bypass south of Tacoma, Wash. [See “National Transportation Safety Board says multiple state and federal agencies failed in 2017 Washington state crash,” Trains News Wire, May 21, 2019.]

Talgo’s 121-page “Petition for Reconsideration” of the NTSB report issued in June 2019 charges that agency investigators repeatedly prevented Talgo’s participation and submission of evidence that was not seen by board members before their vote on May 21. This led to their “unprecedented” recommendation to remove the remaining Series VI trainsets from service, “instead of recommending improvements or modification to or further research on the Talgo railcars,” the report argues.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s Rail Division has cited the NTSB’s recommendation as the basis for seeking to replace all of the trainsets before service resumes on the bypass, even though the NTSB blames Amtrak and Washington DOT’s lack of management oversight of employee training as the wreck’s probable cause.

The petition contends that the NTSB erroneously pointed to the FRA “grandfathering” provisions allowing the Series VI trainsets to begin operating in 1999 without complying with an 800,000-pound buff strength requirement. The company supports that contention by including in Appendix D to its petition a letter from the FRA noting that lack of carbody integrity was not an issue.

That was confirmed, Talgo says, “by new finite element stress and collision dynamics analyses performed by independent engineering firm Simpson, Gumpertz, Heger.” The firm’s 60-page report, included as Exhibit A, “establishes that the Talgo Series VI railcars meet the relevant federal safety standards and performed in the derailment as well or better than conventional cars would have under similar circumstances.”

The manufacturer notes previous incidents, such as the 2005 Metrolink collision involving Bombardier multi-level commuter cars and several Amtrak accidents involving Amfleet equipment where fatalities and injuries occurred, but the cars were not deemed culpable enough to be sidelined.  

The FRA’s most recent crashworthiness rules, issued last November, allow Amtrak’s new Acela 2 trainsets to provide alternative methods of safety to the buff-strength requirement that first-generations Acelas had to meet. Talgo contends the NTSB ignored evidence that the Series VI trainsets would comply with the new regulations.

The manufacturer asks the NTSB to reconsider several issues that it says support the idea that the trainsets do not need to be removed from service. They include:

— The Talgo truck-to-carbody attachment strength was complied with federal regulations at the time of the derailment, and can be modified to provide twice the FRA-required strength.

— The low center of gravity of Talgo’s railcars provides evidence that the lead locomotive was at least a contributing cause of the accident.

— The third car of the trainset, where fatalities occurred, was extensively damaged by impacting the end of the bridge while moving sideways, not by the rolling assembly from the sixth car identified by the NTSB.

The petition urges a re-evaluation of findings based on evidence either initially ignored or now submitted. Its citation of FRA documentation also illustrates the festering dispute between the safety and regulatory agencies.

The complete Talgo document is available here.

— Updated Nov. 1 at 3:45 p.m. CDT with link to Talgo document, references to exhibits in text.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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