Sound Transit replaces safety officer as a result of Cascades wreck

Report commissioned by agency finds critical safety lapses contributed to fatal wreck
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SEATTLE — Sound Transit has removed its safety director from that job in the wake of an internally commissioned report on the December 2017 derailment of an Amtrak train on its line that killed three passengers.

Peter Rogoff, the regional transit agency’s chief executive, also said in a memo issued Wednesday that Amtrak service on the Point Defiance Bypass route won’t be reinstated until Sound Transit verifies “that all necessary changes” have been made, and that the agency will not assume, but rather rigorously verify” that Amtrak training and testing are adequate, and that its general orders “have been appropriately amended to reflect operations on Sound Transit track.”

The derailment of a southbound Amtrak Cascades train near DuPont, Wash., occurred on the first revenue run on the bypass, owned by Sound Transit. [See “ ‘Amtrak Cascades’ train derails onto Washington highway,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 18, 2017.] A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found the train was traveling 79 mph as it entered a curve with a posted speed limit of 30 mph, and issued a lengthy set of recommendations for Amtrak, Sound Transit, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, and equipment maker Talgo. [See “National Transportation Safety Board says multiple state and federal agencies failed in 2017 Washington state crash,” Trains News Wire, May 21, 2019.]

Sound Transit commissioned its own review, by Oregon-based L & H Consulting Group, and Rogoff said “the findings are sobering.” Among the preventable errors it cited:

— A project-specific Safety and Security Management Plan was not prepared for the Point Defiance Bypass.

— Pre-revenue simulated service was not fully performed as required by Sound Transit policy.

—  Proposed hazard mitigations were not appropriately briefed and the safety certification package was not submitted to the responsible group for final approval and ultimate sign-off by the CEO.

— Responsibilities as the host railroad were not sufficiently understood.

— Sound Transit staff wrongly believed that WSDOT, not Sound Transit, was responsible for overseeing all activities related to Amtrak training and qualifications.

“These findings and recommendations all relate to the fact that while Sound Transit does not operate any of our own rail service in the area of the derailment, as the owner of the track, we carry important safety certification and oversight responsibilities,” Rogoff said.

Rogoff said the consultant’s report reinforced a conclusion in the NTSB’s investigation that the involvement of multiple agencies contributed to confusion over responsibility for safety. While Sound Transit owns the line, the state DOT funded improvements for the route and contracted with Amtrak to operate there.

“The consultant could find no similar situation elsewhere in the United States,” Rogoff said. “Despite this extremely unique framework, it was Sound Transit's responsibility as the host railroad to identify, execute, and enforce certain discrete safety-related functions.”

The report included 22 recommendations, Rogoff’s memo said, and Sound Transit has already addressed some, including turning on PTC on the bypass, revising its crew timetable to include a crew focus zone for Amtrak train crews as well as Sound Transit’s crews, and setting up graduated speed restrictions approaching the curve, going from 79 mph to 50 mph to 30 mph, along with more signage. “The others are in various stages of development” he said. “We intend to implement all 22 recommendations fully and promptly.”

While Rogoff announced Salah Al-Tamimi has been removed from the position of chief safety and quality assurance officer, a spokesman said it’s possible he could remain at Sound Transit in a junior role in another department. The agency is splitting the safety and quality management functions. Moises Gutierrez was named interim chief safety officer, with a national search planned to fill the job on a permanent basis. The position will report directly to Rogoff.

“I continue to have confidence in Sound Transit’s practices in certifying the safety of services we operate,” Rogoff wrote. “But our reforms will not only remedy deficiencies in our safety certification of Amtrak’s Cascades service. They will further strengthen our already successful track record in certifying and commissioning Link light rail expansions.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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