Published: Sun, January 28, 2018
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

Engineer says he misjudged train location in fatal wreck

Engineer says he misjudged train location in fatal wreck

The engineer of an Amtrak train that derailed over a bridge in Washington State in December said he missed a mile marker and a speed sign prior to the fatal crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The train was traveling 78 miles (126 kilometers) an hour when it hit a curve near DuPont, Washington, where the speed limit was 30 miles an hour.

The 55-year-old engineer and a 48-year-old conductor in training, who was in the lead locomotive at the time of the crash, had been too seriously injured to speak with investigators immediately after the December 18 accident.

New details released by the the National Transportation Safety Board Thursday revealed more about the last moments on the Amtrak passenger train that derailed on its way to Portland, and the first from the engineer's perspective.

"The engineer said that he did see the wayside signal at milepost 19.8 (at the accident curve) but mistook it for another signal, which was north of the curve", the NTSB wrote in its report.

He then noticed the 30 miles per hour sign as the tracks began to curve and began to apply the brakes, but the train quickly derailed.

The NTSB in a preliminary report released earlier this month said that PTC would have slowed down the train.

He had been qualified on the Point Defiance Bypass section of the track by completing 7-10 observational trips, as well as three trips where he operated the equipment.

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Two of those trips were driving northbound, the NTSB said. The conductor and the engineer had never worked together before.

"The qualifying conductor told investigators that he felt rested and alert at the start of his shift", according to the report.

NTSB officials said the interviews with crew members would be just one of the several factors they will be weighing as they continue to investigate the cause of the deadly crash.

The conductor who was also in the locomotive at the time of the derailment has been with Amtrak since 2010 and was promoted to his current post in 2011.

Garrick Freeman was identified as the conductor after filing a lawsuit against Amtrak, claiming the company failed to provide a safe work environment.

The NTSB said it conducted the interviews last week, almost one month after the crash, due to the injuries the two individuals sustained in the derailment.

In the coming weeks, investigators will compare these accounts with video taken from inward- and outward-facing cameras, the train's data recorder, and other sources.

The investigation is expected to last 12 to 24 months, NTSB officials said.

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