• State official promised train safety system before service began on new route

    By: Graham Johnson


    Eleven months before a speeding Amtrak train flew off a bridge and onto I-5, David Smelser of the Washington State Department of Transportation's Rail Division made a promise to the Lakewood City Council.

    At a meeting January 17, 2017, Smelser addressed positive train control, or PTC, the system that can automatically slow a speeding train.

    "PTC will go in in the forthcoming months -- before we start service," Smelser said.

    Positive train control systems were largely installed but not operating when the train derailed during its inaugural trip on the Point Defiance Bypass on Monday morning.

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    A statement from WSDOT's rail division reads in part, "David Smelser's comment about PTC being operational at the time service started on the Point Defiance Bypass was based on the best information he had at the time. If the litmus test is that PTC needs to be fully activated to operate passenger rail service, then there would not be any passenger rail service statewide and in many areas of the country."

    Sound Transit owns the new section of track where the train derailed.

    Sound Transit officials told KIRO 7 the plan has long been to have PTC running by the second quarter of 2018, after the launch of new service.

    Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told reporters Tuesday night that the agency is on track to have PTC operational in the Northwest by the deadline imposed by the federal government.

    Governor Jay Inslee, who said Tuesday that it wasn't clear if PTC would have prevented the crash, issued a news release Wednesday saying he had met with Anderson and that "Amtrak would seek to make PTC operational statewide on its trains as soon as possible and before the December 31, 2018 federal deadline."

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