Curtis Tate, USA TODAY
Published 3: 04 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2020
Survivors, witnesses, and a hero Eagle Scout describe the deadly Amtrak train derailment south of Seattle. Their harrowing accounts paint a horrifying picture, but one of heroism as well.
The Amtrak engineer whose train derailed in Washington state in December 2017, killing three passengers, has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the railroad.
The lawsuit, filed this week in Pierce County, Washington, claims Amtrak failed to properly train the engineer, Steven Brown, to operate the train’s locomotive or to operate the train on its route. Brown operated Cascades train 501 on Dec. 18, 2017, when it derailed near DuPont, Washington, on the way from Seattle to Portland.
Brown’s suit also claims that Amtrak failed to complete positive train control, an automatic-braking system, on the route, called the Point Defiance bypass.
Amtrak and the Washington State Department of Transportation had upgraded the route so that Amtrak trains could operate at faster speeds and avoid conflict with freight trains, but was only testing positive train control at the time of the derailment.
Train 501 was the first to use the new route when it jumped the tracks partially onto Interstate 5, leading to additional crashes with vehicles on the highway.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, the train was traveling 78 mph when it derailed, and Brown was responsible for slowing the train to 30 mph for a curve before it crossed over Interstate 5.
The NTSB concluded that Brown wasn’t familiar enough with the new Siemens Charger locomotive he was operating that day, nor with the new Point Defiance bypass route.
Positive train control, a safety system Congress required in 2008, could have slowed the train automatically and could have prevented the derailment.
Amtrak and commuter railroads nationwide are required to complete the safety system by the end of 2020. Congress originally set a December 2015 deadline, but then extended it.
Amtrak, which declined to comment on the lawsuit, has not used the Point Defiance route since the derailment.
Amtrak has experienced a series of fatal crashes in recent years that safety investigators believe could have been prevented with positive train control.
In May 2015, a New York-bound Amtrak train derailed in North Philadelphia, killing eight passengers and injuring 185 others. The train was approaching a curve at 106 mph when it should have been traveling no more than 50 mph, investigators found.
In February 2018, a Miami-bound Amtrak train crashed head-on into a CSX freight train in Cayce, South Carolina, killing two Amtrak employees and injuring 91 others.
Early assessments show the Amtrak commuter train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone before it careened over an overpass, killing at least 3 people and leaving several seriously injured.
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