Amtrak testing trains at Point Defiance Bypass for first time since deadly 2017 derailment

Amtrak trains returned to the Point Defiance Bypass for testing for the first time in 3 years.

During the route’s inaugural run in December of 2017, an Amtrak Cascades train derailed in Dupont. Thirteen cars jumped the tracks and plunged onto Interstate 5, killing three people and injuring dozens more.

Two people of the people who died were Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite were on the train. They were both rail enthusiasts and were on the board of All Aboard Washington which promotes passenger rail service.

“When we found out they had died we were devastated,” said Charlie Hamilton, co-executive director of All Aboard Washington. “It really pushed the rest of us to move, to work even harder.”

Hamilton has been advocating to reopen the Point Defiance Bypass as soon as possible.

“We are extremely pleased with the idea that after a lot of the work has been done, it’s finally moving forward. We know that our board members would have wanted to see that happen,” Hamilton added.

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The 14-mile route, which runs from Tacoma to Olympia, was created to cut down on travel time between Seattle and Portland.

Sound Transit owns that section of the track.

“We’re going to be very diligent about our process. This is really driven by safety. We’re not on a schedule to get service back on there,” said Scott Thompson with Sound Transit.

Thompson said a number of safety features have been added including Positive Train Control which could have prevented the derailment. If an engineer goes over the speed limit or fails to brake on approach to a work zone or signal, PTC will automatically apply the brakes and stop the train. In 2017, the train was going nearly 80 miles an hour and hit a curve with a posted speed limit of 30. PTC could have slowed it down.

More signs have also been installed to alert conductors of speed reductions ahead of the curve along the bypass.

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“Inherently, I don’t think anyone’s against them using this route as long as they can take the necessary steps to ensure they can utilize it safely and something like this never happens again,” said lawyer Marty McLean. 3:09

Marty Mclean’s client, Tiffani Vincent, recently settled with Amtrak for an undisclosed amount. She was driving on I-5 when a train car came crashing down on her. At the time she was stationed at Fort Lewis as a military police officer, but she had to medically retire from the Air Force because of her injuries.

“Now she’s trying to figure out what her next steps are in her life. So her life changed in really fundamental ways,” McLean added.

Though more testing needs to be done, including crew testing, Hamilton said he will be on the first run whenever the route reopens.

“Passenger rail is still safe. It’s still environmentally friendly, convenient, it’s all the things that we’ve always said. I think we are redoubling our efforts that will make sure that will happen not only now but in the future,” Hamilton said.