NTSB Announces Public Hearing on Amtrak Crashes

The July 10-11 hearing in Washington, D.C., will examine issues involved in the Dec. 18, 2017, derailment in DuPont, Wash., and the Feb. 4, 2018, collision with a freight train near Cayce, S.C.

The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a two-day investigative hearing July 10-11 about two recent Amtrak crashes. The hearing in Washington, D.C., will examine issues involved in the Dec. 18, 2017, derailment in DuPont, Wash., and the Feb. 4, 2018, collision with a freight train near Cayce, S.C.

Parties to the hearing include the Federal Railroad Administration; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; the Brotherhood of Locomotives Engineers and Trainmen; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; CSX; Sound Transit; Amtrak; Washington State DOT; and the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The DuPont crash was a derailment of the Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 as it made the inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass, a new passenger rail route south of Tacoma, Wash., that was built to reduce congestion and separate passenger and freight traffic and was designed for faster speeds and shorter travel times than the previous route. The train was traveling at 78 mph, nearly 50 mph above the speed limit for that location, when the lead locomotive and all 12 cars derailed while approaching a bridge over Interstate 5. Three people on board were killed.

The Cayce crash involved an Amtrak passenger train that was mistakenly diverted onto a side track, where it crashed into a stationary freight train. Two Amtrak employees died in the accident and 116 people were injured. NTSB officials said the southbound Amtrak Train 91 was diverted because a rail switch had been manually set to move a train onto the track where the CSX train was parked. NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt has said a padlock held the switch in its alignment, which is standard procedure when switches are manually operated.

NTSB issued an urgent safety recommendation 11 days after the Cayce crash. Its investigators found that the day before the crash, CSX personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control. "The lack of signals required dispatchers to use track warrants to move trains through the work territory. In this accident, and a similar accident March 14, 2016, Granger, Wyoming accident, safe movement of the trains, through the signal suspension, depended upon proper switch alignment," NTSB reported Feb. 15. "That switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision, creating a single point of failure. The NTSB concludes additional measures are needed to ensure safe operations during signal suspension and so issued an urgent safety recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration seeking an emergency order directing restricted speed for trains or locomotives passing through signal suspensions when a switch has been reported relined for a main track."

The July 10-11 hearing is scheduled to last from 8 a.m. EDT to 4:30 p.m. EDT both days in the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW. It will be offered as a live webcast via a link that will be available here shortly before the start of the hearing.

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