Engineer from Amtrak derailment was confused about where he was on track, investigators say

Amtrak train was going 80 on a 30-mph track, according to NTSB

Train 501 was going 80 on a 30-mph track when it derailed Monday sending cars down onto I-5, killing at least three passengers.
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Train 501 was going 80 on a 30-mph track when it derailed Monday sending cars down onto I-5, killing at least three passengers.

The engineer who was in charge of an Amtrak train that derailed near DuPont may have lost track of where he was on the route, federal officials said Thursday.

Three people were killed and 62 injured when the high-speed train crashed Dec. 18 while making its inaugural run from Tacoma to Portland.

Investigators have said the train was traveling 79 mph as it approached a curve above Interstate 5 where the speed limit was 30 mph.

The train’s 55-year-old engineer and 48-year-old conductor have now been interviewed by investigators. Both were seriously injured in the derailment and could not immediately answer questions related to what led up to the crash.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board was released Thursday with a summary from those interviews.

The engineer had experience on the Point Defiance Bypass section where the derailment occurred. He observed the route 7 to 10 times in the five weeks before the crash and operated the locomotive on three trips, according to the report.

His plan was to apply the brake about one mile before the curve but apparently did not see the last milepost before the curve or the speed limit sign.

“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 immediately hit the brakes but the train derailed seconds later.

The engineer was hired by Amtrak in 2004 and promoted to engineer in 2013.

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.

The two had never worked together before.

They did not speak much during the train ride and the conductor spent his time familiarizing himself with the route, he told investigators.

Shortly before the derailment, the conductor heard the engineer mumble something, looked up and felt the train go “airborne,” according to the report.

The conductor has since sued Amtrak, alleging they failed to provide a safe work environment. A passenger has sued as well.

There were 78 passengers and seven crew members aboard the train when it hurtled into the curve and derailed, leaving one car dangling above I-5.

Federal officials estimate there was more than $40 million in infrastructure damages from the derailment.

Investigators said they will compare the men’s accounts of what happened with video from cameras placed in the locomotives and information from the data recorder.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653