• What the black box revealed in the Amtrak train derailment

    By: KIRO 7 News Staff

    Updated:

    In the wake of the Amtrak train derailment that killed three people and injured more than 70, investigators continue to look into what may have caused the train to go off an overpass and into Interstate 5 traffic.

    Federal investigators trying to determine the cause of the wreck have gathered data from the locomotive's event data recorder — called the Black Box — as well as inward- and outward-facing train cameras. They have said their full investigation could take more than a year.

    But here’s what we know now.

    Train speeding at 78 mph

    The train derailed heading in to a sharp curve on an overpass before the overpass. Twelve cars and two engines jumped the tracks.

    It was recorded traveling at 78 mph, more than double the posted limit of 30 mph (48 kph).
    Video and audio captured from a camera facing inside the cab also revealed that the engineer was heard commenting about the train's speed just before the train derailed.

    Image: NTSB

    Authorities did not provide a transcript of what he said, saying only in a summary that "about six seconds prior to the derailment, the engineer made a comment regarding an over speed condition."

    Engineer was possibly distracted

    Rail-safety experts have said the engineer should have activated the emergency brake about a minute before the train reached the curve posted for 30 mph (48 kph) and that not doing do strongly suggested that the engineer may have been distracted for an extended period.


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    The name of the engineer, who was among the injured, has not been released and investigators have said they planned to speak with him soon.

    The crew was not observed to use any personal electronic devices during the time frame reviewed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

    Another person inside the locomotive cab

    Investigators have also said they are looking into whether the engineer was distracted by a second person in the cab or by something else.

    Officials report another person was inside the locomotive's cab. That person was a conductor familiarizing himself with the route.

    (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

    No positive train control

    None of the critical train speed-control technology that could have prevented a derailment was active on the section of track where the derailment happened before the train set off on its maiden voyage Monday.

    Work to install the GPS-based technology known as positive train control is not expected to be completed until next spring on the newly opened span where the train derailed, according to Sound Transit, the public agency that owns the tracks.

    Experts have said it is likely the technology would have prevented Monday's derailment in Washington state.

    To read more about positive train control and how it could have prevented the crash, click here.

    WSDOT faced a mix of deadlines

    The corridor was years in the making and was refurbished by Sound Transit under an agreement with Washington Department of Transportation. 

    WSDOT leaders were facing a mix of deadlines that would have jeopardized federal stimulus money if missed.

    (Thomas James/Pool via AP)

    If they waited a few more months, then positive train control would have been installed, according to The Seattle Times.

    The train was on its inaugural run on a new route

    Train 501 was on its maiden run when it derailed. Questions have surfaced about whether there was enough time for the crew to train on the new Point Defiance Bypass route, a refurbished 14.5-mile section of track.

    Though, officials have yet to report on any structural issues.

    The new high-speed route takes the trains inland, running parallel to I-5 through Tacoma, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Dupont, separating passenger trains from freight rains that continue to use a waterfront route. See a map of the route here.

    The route shaved about 10 minutes off the Seattle-to-Portland run.

    Lakewood city leaders and South Sound residents brought up concerns for years before the route opened, warning it could lead to fatal accidents and traffic disruptions.

    The NTSB said its preliminary reports are in the early stage of the investigation. The entire investigation is expected to last between 12 to 24 months.


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