WASHINGTON D.C. — A 17-month investigation into the deadly crash of Amtrak 501 near DuPont concluded all the agencies involved made mistakes in a rush to run passenger trains on the newly opened Point Defiance Bypass.
“Could this accident have been prevented? The answer is a resounding yes,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
The crash on the morning of Dec. 18, 2017, killed three people and injured more than 80, including passengers and crew members on board as well as people hurt when the train flew off a freeway overpass and into traffic on southbound Interstate 5.
Sumwalt said the biggest mistake was beginning service on the bypass before Positive Train Control, or PTC, was in place as an added safety measure.
“Beginning revenue service on the Point Defiance Bypass before PTC was operational, it set up the engineer to fail,” Sumwalt said.
The train was on its inaugural run on the new bypass when it entered a sharp curve at more than 80 mph. The posted limit for the curve is 30 mph. Investigators say the engineer at the controls had little experience on the route and missed speed limit signs warning him to slow down.
The Amtrak Cascades is run by four different agencies, including the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Sound Transit. During a question-and-answer period, particular focus was paid to Sound Transit, the agency responsible for the tracks the train traveled over the morning of the crash.
"Ultimately that responsibility for safe operations and a project that’s ready for those operations lied with Sound Transit,” said investigator Ryan Frigo in response to board questions.
In an email response to KIRO 7, a Sound Transit spokesman said, “As owner of the track we commit to closely reviewing the NTSB’s report and implementing recommendations in collaboration with Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, BNSF and the Federal Railroad Administration.”
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