WSDOT awarded up to $37.5 million for Passenger Rail Car Replacement Project

SEATTLE — The federal government is helping fund replacements for three older trains on the Amtrak Cascades line after investigators recommended they be pulled from service following a 2017 crash in DuPont that killed three people.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will award the Washington State Department of Transportation up to $37,500,000 for the Washington State Passenger Rail Car Replacement project.

State officials say new trainsets cost $25 million each, and the federal funding is expected to cover half the cost of three new trainsets, including the one that crashed in December 2017 and sent train cars dangling over Interstate 5.

Officials said the grant funding announcement comes as part of the Federal Railroad Administration's Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program.

The program is designed to help repair and rehabilitate railroad infrastructure around the country, officials said.

The new train cars won't be ready until the mid-2020s, and state officials are working with Amtrak to find interim replacements.

Ron Pate, WSDOT's Rail, Freight and Ports division director, said there's still no date for when replacement trains will be running.

"It's very difficult, it's not easy to replace a trainset, you have to look at capacity, mechanical crews, rotations of equipment, platform lengths," Pate said.

In May, NTSB investigators wrote "The Talgo Series VI trainset does not meet current United States safety standards and poses unnecessary risk to railroad passenger safety when involved in a derailment or collision."

The NTSB said the trains started service just before federal regulators required trains be built stronger to better withstand crashes. An exemption allowed them to keep running.

The NTSB recommended the State of Washington, which funds Amtrak Cascades service along with Oregon, discontinue using the Series VI trains as soon as possible.

KIRO 7 asked Ronald Batory, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, if he has considered pulling the Series VI from service while Amtrak looks for interim replacements.

"No we have not," Batory answered. "They are safe for the traveling public and we have no intention of pulling them from service at this juncture."

FRA officials say the Series VI cars were designed to meet international standards for compressive strength and that the agency required three structural enhancement modifications in 1999.

The FRA also says in the DuPont derailment, the end structure of the Series VI showed no evidence of premature failure and the strength of the train cars was not a factor in the accident.

In a letter to the NTSB, Talgo wrote that "we believe the NTSB's report is founded on an insufficient factual basis and erroneous analysis" and the company indicated it will file a petition for reconsideration.

In a statement to KIRO 7, Talgo said "our passenger cars are safe and meet or exceed all crashworthiness requirements."

More news from KIRO 7