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Amtrak Personnel Note High Speed of Train Before Crash

On December 18, a Washington Amtrak train flew off its tracks with many of the train cars crashing onto the street below. The train’s derailment killed 3 passengers and injured more than 70 others. As investigations into the cause of the accident have yet to be conclusive, preliminary investigations revealed that the train’s final speed was 78 mph, 48 mph over the 30 mph speed limit.

The National Transportation Safety Board collected video and audio recordings from the Cascades 501. These recordings revealed that the Amtrak engineer stated the train was in “an over speed condition” before it derailed. In fact, this and other comments were made almost six seconds before the train detached its path.

Video evidence has revealed that the engineer and the conductor were in the cab of the train when the accident occurred. However, the train’s breaks (a lever found in the cab of a train) were engaged automatically when the train derailed from the tracks. This means neither the engineer nor the conductor manually engaged the brakes—despite the engineer claiming that the train was speeding into the curve. Why the two Amtrak employees failed to engage the brakes is still unknown at this time.

While the Cascades 501 was the first Amtrak train and crew to run this rail system, there was no reason the team should have been caught off guard by the speed limit of the bend. An upcoming speed limit sign of 30 mph is posted 2 miles before the bend in the track. Between the engineer’s recorded statements and the posted sign, it is unlikely that the crew will claim plausible deniability concerning their need to slow the train down before the oncoming bend.