On Oct. 18, 2017, at 7:45 a.m., an Amtrak train left Seattle on its first run to Portland, Oregon, when 13 of the 14 cars derailed over Interstate 5 in DuPont, Washington. The train had reached 80 mph in a 30-mph area. Only the rear train car remained on the tracks.
Multiple train cars fell from the bridge onto the highway crushing traveling vehicles. Three of the 77 passengers were killed, and dozens were injured. Some of the Amtrak cars flipped upside down when they landed on the highway below.
The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) said they reviewed the video and audio recordings. The conductor of Amtrak Cascades Train 501 did react to the change in the speed limit, but not in time. He applied the break, but according to the recordings, he did not apply the emergency break. The recordings ended when the cars began to tip, and the crew and passengers braced for impact. There were five crew members on board.
The NTSB has not interview the Amtrak crew members as many of them are still hospitalized. Almost all of the passengers and many motorists were injured when the Amtrak train derailed, and many remain in critical condition.
Three passengers were killed in the incident. They have been identified as Zack Willhoite, 35, and Jim Hamre, 61, were members of All Aboard Washington, which is a railroad enthusiasts group. They helped to establish this new route. Benjamin Gran, age 40, also died in the wreckage. Family described him as “an Amtrak fan to the max.”
Many of the injured have started GoGundMe accounts. Amtrak announced it will cover medical expenses and other costs incurred by those who were injured or killed in the crash. According to Amtrak and the NTSB, the investigation will take more than a year to complete.
According to a press release from the NTSB, the Amtrak Cascades Train 501 has inward-facing cameras with audio that recorded the actions and conversations of the crew members. There was also a forward-facing camera with audio that recorded the conditions in front of the train and external sounds.
The crew was observed, and it did not appear any of them were using personal electronic devices, including cell phones. Six seconds before Amtrak Cascades Train 501 derailed, the engineer commented that the train was traveling over the speed limit. The reactions of the engineer were consistent with the application of the brakes, however, the break handle was not put in the emergency-break position.
The recordings ended as the cars began to tilt, and the crew braced themselves for impact. The last recorded speed of the train was 78 mph.
According to videos of other derailments, if the emergency break had been applied, it would have only stopped the front car, causing the rest of the train to propel forward. The incident could have been much worse, killing many more people. The investigation is ongoing.
By Jeanette Smith
Los Angeles Times: Engineer of Amtrak train was not on cellphone at time of crash
National Transportation Safety Board: NTSB Conducts Initial Review of Amtrak Train Recorders
Image Courtesy of Cathy Cochran-Milne
Amtrak Derailment in DuPont, Washington added by Jeanette Smith on December 23, 2017
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