Much attention has been placed on the lack of an operational positive train control system which could potentially have prevented Amtrak Cascades #501 on its maiden voyage on Dec. 18 from speeding through a curve leading to a bridge over Interstate 5 where it derailed, with two cars falling onto the freeway below, killing three passengers and injuring over 100. Now attention is being placed on the curve itself.
On Dec. 22, Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal reported that had the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) proceeded with their original plan for the bypass route, that curve would never have existed. Amanda Woods of the New York Post reports on Mann's piece (which is accessible only to WSJ subscribers).
"An $11 billion Washington State government plan to speed up passenger and freight rail service throughout the Pacific Northwest called for an elimination of the turn," reports Woods.
But that request was not included in the final design, once the state won federal funding for the [$180.7 million] Point Defiance railroad bypass south of Tacoma, Wash., The Wall Street Journal reported on [Dec. 22].
The plan was ditched because the turn in question was deemed too costly to remove, the outlet reported, citing documents and state officials.
The section where the train derailed “includes unsuitable sharp curvature,” according to schematic documents obtained by the paper.
Woods adds that while WSDOT has plans to improve the bypass route to increase speed, they do not include elimination of the deadly curve "because it wasn’t deemed necessary to support the number of round trips the state and Amtrak had planned for the corridor," a WSDOT spokeswoman told the the Journal.
According to WSDOT, trains will not use the bypass route or the new Tacoma station for the foreseeable future due to the Dec. 18 derailment.
Also on Dec. 22, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a press release based on "Initial Review of Amtrak Train Recorders."
About six seconds prior to the derailment, the engineer made a comment regarding an over speed condition.
Some experts have suggested the engineer was distracted, possible due to the presence of someone else in the cab. The term they use is "loss of situational awareness."