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The National Transportation Safety Board Updates Its Preliminary Report on the Amtrak Train 501 Derailment

On December 18, 2017, at 7:33 a.m., southbound Amtrak train 501 derailed from an overpass over Interstate 5, near Mounts Road in DuPont, Pierce County, Washington, during its inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass, Lakewood Subdivision track.

On January 25, 2018, after interviewing the locomotive engineer and an Amtrak conductor who was in the lead locomotive training for the new route, the NTSB updated its Preliminary Report.

Here is what we know about the derailment from the NTSB:

  • The train was traveling 79 mph on approach to a curve whose posted speed limit was 30 mph.
  • The engineer was aware of the curve and had planned to initiate braking a mile before the curve.
  • A 30-mph speed sign was posted 2 miles ahead of the speed restriction to remind engineers of the change in speed. The engineer did not see the sign.
  • A wayside signal was placed at the accident curve, but the engineer mistook it for another signal.
  • A second 30-mph speed sign was present at the beginning of the curve. The engineer saw that sign and applied the brakes.
  • The conductor who was in the locomotive training for the new route had never been on the Lakewood Subdivision track before. He was sitting on the fireman's side of the locomotive, going over training materials to help learn the territory. He did not see the speed signs, which were on the other side of the locomotive.
  • The actions of the engineer and the familiarizing conductor were caught on the inward-facing locomotive video. Neither were using cell phones or other personal electronic devices. They were not conversing.
  • The train did not have Positive Train Control in place, which would have automatically slowed the train and likely prevented this incident.

Many questions remain and it will take time before families get the answers they need. In the meantime, the attorneys at Hildebrand McLeod & Nelson are continuing their own investigation into the series of events that lead to this tragic derailment, focusing particularly on Amtrak's failure to properly train its crews. For more information, please call us at 1-800-689-7066.

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