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Rail News: Positive Train Control

NTSB issues preliminary report on fatal Amtrak derailment

Derailed passenger cars on Interstate 5.
Photo – NTSB

An Amtrak Cascades derailment near DuPont, Washington, last month caused $40.4 million in damage, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) preliminary accident report.

Issued yesterday, the report provides a few additional details about the fatal accident, which occurred Dec. 18 on the inaugural run of a new bypass on the Amtrak Cascades service between Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

The train — which consisted of a leading and trailing locomotive, a power car, 10 passenger cars and a luggage car — was traveling at 78 mph when it derailed from a highway overpass near DuPont. The lead locomotive, power car and two passenger cars derailed onto Interstate 5 below the overpass.

Of the 83 people on board, three passengers were killed and 62 passengers and crew members were injured. In addition, eight people in highway vehicles below the overpass were injured.

As noted in investigators' reports, the authorized track speed north of the accident site is 79 mph and decreases to 30 mph prior to a curve. A 30 mph speed sign was posted 2 miles before the curve on the engineer's side of the track. Another 30 mph sign was on the wayside at the start of the curve on the engineer's side of the locomotive.

The train did not slow prior to the accident and its final speed was recorded at 78 mph at the time of the derailment. About six seconds before the accident, the engineer in the locomotive cab commented on an over speed condition. Also in the cab was a "qualifying conductor." The crew was not observed using personal electronic devices in the cab, according to inward-facing video and audio from the train's recorders.

Investigators' also noted that positive train control (PTC) was not in operation on the route at the time of the accident.

"In this accident, PTC would have notified the engineer of train 501 about the speed reduction for the curve; if the engineer did not take appropriate action to control the train's speed, PTC would have applied the train brakes to maintain compliance with the speed restriction and to stop the train," the report states.

The report also noted that the train's 55-year-old engineer had been working for Amtrak since May 2004 and had been promoted to engineer in August 2013. The 48-year-old qualifying conductor — who was in the cab to become familiar with the route's territory — had been working Amtrak since June 2010.

NTSB investigators have not yet been able to interview the engineer or conductor due to their injuries, the report states.

The report does not list a probable cause for the accident. NTSB officials have said they anticipate their investigation to take at least a year.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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