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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

NTSB reveals Amtrak derailment details; rail enthusiasts among victims

NTSB Member Bella Dinh-Zarr
Photo – YouTube


Positive train control (PTC) was not implemented on either the rail line or the Amtrak Cascades 501 train that derailed in DuPont, Washington, on Monday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced yesterday.

NTSB investigators confirmed that the Sound Transit, which owns the track from which the train derailed, had centralized traffic control (CTC), which allows for dispatch direction over the train.

"CTC is not PTC, however. CTC cannot enforce speed restrictions on a train like PTC can," said NTSB Member Bella Dinh-Zarr during a press conference.

The locomotive was in the process of getting a PTC system installed, but it was not functional, she added.

The Amtrak Cascades train was traveling about 80 mph in a 30 mph zone before it derailed Monday on the inaugural run of the passenger-rail service. Eighty passengers were on board, along with five Amtrak crew members and one Talgo technician.

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. At least three people were killed and about 100 others were injured, according to local news reports.

NTSB investigators will be at the scene of the derailment for another seven to 10 days, possibly longer, Dinh-Zarr said. She also revealed yesterday:
• The train's emergency brake was automatically activated and not initiated by the engineer during the accident;
• Investigation interviews with the the engineer and crew members — all of whom are hospitalized — will be held as soon as their medical conditions allow;
• The train's engineer was not alone in the cab — a conductor who was learning about the new route was also in the cab at the time of the accident. Investigators will examine whether the engineer was distracted at the time of the incident.
• Testing of the service began in January with Sound Transit and Amtrak; and
• The service's crews were operating the train in non-revenue service for at least two weeks prior to the accident.

Meanwhile, the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) — formerly known as the National Association of Rail Passengers — announced yesterday that two of its members were among those killed in the Amtrak Cascades derailment.

RPA members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite were "passionate advocates of passenger rail" and were on the inaugural run of the new Cascades service, said RPA President Jim Mathews in a press release.

"Jim was among the country's most-respected and effective rail advocates and a good friend and mentor to me. I will miss his counsel," Mathews said. "Both Jim and Zack have been advocates of transit and passenger rail for decades, and we can't thank them enough for their work. Our thoughts are with their families at this time, as they work through this tragedy."

Hamre was an RPA board member and a vice president of All Aboard Washington. He began working on the Milwaukee Road in the early 1970s and later moved on to work at the Washington State Department of Transportation, according to RPA's press release.

Willhoite was a member of RPA and on the board of All Aboard Washington, where he served as director of information technology. He had been a Pierce Transit employee since 2008, according to RPA.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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