Resolved: Amtrak Cascades derailment case

Written by

Marybeth Luczak, Editor-in-Chief

An aerial view of the December 18, 2017 derailment. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol.)

A settlement has been reached more than four years after Amtrak Cascades train 501, on its inaugural Point Defiance Bypass run, derailed in DuPont, Wash., as it entered a curve from 30 mph to around 79 mph .

Seattle weather on June 6 reported that “Amtrak has agreed to pay former engineer Steven Brown for his pain and suffering caused by the [Dec. 18,] 2017 derailment when his train left a curve at DuPont, killing three people and injuring dozens.

“’It was a big colony. Steve and his family will be taken care of for his life,’ said Fred Bremseth, a Minneapolis attorney whose firm handled the case. The amount of the settlement is not disclosed, after the agreement was filed on Friday [June 3] in Pierce County Superior Court.

“We believe this proves that it is Amtrak’s fault and not Mr. Brown’s fault,” Bremseth said.

The Southbound Amtrak Derailment Waterfalls 501, bound for Portland, Oregon, from Seattle, Washington, knocked the lead locomotive and four passenger cars off an overpass on Interstate 5 where they struck eight vehicles. Three of the train’s 77 passengers were killed, and 57 passengers and crew on the train and eight people on the highway were injured. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced in May 2019 that the failure to provide an effective mitigation method for a dangerous curve and inadequate training of a locomotive engineer led to the derailment.

The NTSB said at a May 21, 2019 public meeting that the right-of-way owner Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) “failed to adequately address the hazard associated with a curve that required the train to slow down from 79 mph to 30 mph in order to pass through it safely,” The age of the railway reported at that time. “Positive train control was not used for curved track.

“In addition, the engineer was somewhat familiar with the route of the observation rides and the three practice runs, but the accident was the first time he had operated the train on this route in revenue service. The NTSB said therefore determined that the engineer had insufficient training on both the route and the equipment.

“In addition, Amtrak had fitted the locomotive with an inboard-facing video recorder, although this was not required by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which provided investigators with a visual and audio recording. the activities of the crew members during the accident.

“The recording enabled the investigators to reconstruct, second by second, the gestures and words of the chef de train and the engineer throughout the trip. According to the NTSB, the couple had brief conversations throughout the trip; as the train passed the only sign warning of a reduction in speed before the crash curve, the engineer was not engaged in conversation and stared ahead.

“The engineer told investigators that he did not see the speed reduction sign. Records show that he took no action to reduce speed prior to the derailment. Investigators have concluded that the brief conversations between the locomotive engineer and conductor had not distracted them from their duties or their ability to identify the speed reduction sign.

“Investigators have also discovered that the trainset involved in the accident, which did not meet current crashworthiness standards and was only permitted to operate through a grandfathering agreement with the FRA, was structurally vulnerable to derailments or high-energy collisions.

“Responsibility for the planning, security and monitoring of the Waterfalls involved many organizations, such as Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the FRA, and the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority. Investigators found that there was a general feeling that none of the participants fully understood the extent of their roles and responsibilities with regard to the safe operation of the service, which allowed critical security areas to be left unaddressed. .

“As a result of the investigation, the NTSB issued a total of 26 safety recommendations to the FRA, Washington State Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Transportation, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority and the U.S. Department of Defense In addition, the NTSB reiterated three recommendations to the FRA.

According to June 6, 2022, Seattle Times report, “Federal railroad law requires Amtrak to prove that an employee was the sole cause of the accident or to pay compensation. Last year, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karena Kirkendoll granted Brown’s request to sue for damages. Brown, now 60, broke several bones in his face and chest when most of the train lifted off the trestle onto Interstate 5 below.

An Amtrak spokesperson said on June 7 The age of the railway that the railroad had no statement.

A total of eight trains, including Amtrak Cascades and Coast Starlight, began using the Point Defiance Bypass between Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Ore., Nov. 18 each day, Amtrak reported late last fall. Additionally, last year’s operations in Tacoma, Wash., moved to the new Tacoma Dome station (pictured), near Sound Transit’s Commuter Rail and Light Rail Stations on East 25th Street.

Amtrak late last fall resumed Waterfalls service on the Point Defiance bypass between Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.

It reported on Nov. 9, 2021 that service was back after “extensive system testing, crew qualifications and safety certification” in partnership with Sound Transit (Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority) and the Department of Transportation of Washington State.

Since the derailment, Amtrak said all agencies involved have worked to:
Activate positive train control (PTC). All passenger rail corridors in Washington, including the Point Defiance Bypass, have train control technology.
Develop and implement an Amtrak Safety Management System (SMS)which “includes policies and processes to proactively identify and mitigate risks, improved reporting standards, expanded crew training and redesigned safety training courses to create an improved safety culture and drive performance in matters of security”.
Implement progressive speed restrictions. “In conjunction with Sound Transit, progressive speed reductions have been implemented to ensure trains are traveling at the required speeds on the route,” Amtrak reported.
Upgrade simulation programs. “High-fidelity simulators with route-specific details and conditions were used to dramatically increase training opportunities on the route,” according to Amtrak.
Conduct an extensive public awareness campaign on rail safety. “Our partners and Amtrak conducted outreach in communities surrounding the Point Defiance Bypass, including DuPont, Lakewood, Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, prior to the return of service,” the railroad said.

Additionally, Amtrak, Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation “have implemented or continue to follow all safety recommendations set forth by the NTSB,” Amtrak said.

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