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NTSB learns derailment details from Amtrak train's event recorder, cameras

The Amtrak Cascades train derailed on Dec. 18 in Dupont, Washington.
Photo – Washington State Patrol


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) late last week released preliminary details gathered from the locomotive event data recorder and inward- and outward-facing cameras from the Amtrak Cascades train that derailed Dec. 18 in Dupont, Washington.

The lead locomotive's event data and video recorders were downloaded and processed at the NTSB's lab in Washington, D.C. Among the details of the initial review of the final portion of the accident sequence:

• Inward-facing video with audio captured the crew's actions and their conversations. A forward-facing video with audio captured conditions in front of the locomotive as well as external sounds.
• The crew was not observed using any personal electronic devices.
• The engineer made a comment about an over-speed condition about six seconds before the accident.
• The engineer's actions were consistent with the application of the locomotive's brakes just before the recording ended. It appeared that the engineer did not place the brake handle in emergency-braking mode.
• The recording ended as the locomotive tilted and the crew braced for impact.
• The locomotive's final recorded speed was 78 mph.

The NTSB's preliminary report of the derailment likely will be posted on the board's website in the coming days. The agency expects the entire investigation to take 12 to 24 months.

Investigators determined the train was traveling 78 mph in a 30 mph zone before it derailed at 7:34 a.m. on Dec. 18 while crossing an overpass near DuPont. The train consisted of two locomotives and 12 passenger cars when it left the track, sending several of the units off both sides of the overpass and onto Interstate 5 below. Three people were killed and dozens of others were injured.

The derailment occurred during the train's inaugural run of a new Cascades passenger-rail service between Seattle and Portland, Oregon. A positive train control system was not yet operating on the line.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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