Amtrak engineer misread signal before fatal crash near Seattle, agency says

Amtrak Cascades Train 501 was going more than twice the posted speed limit when it derailed at a sharp turn near DuPont Washington

The engineer on the Amtrak train that derailed south of Tacoma last month, killing three people and injuring dozens, said he didn't see or didn't recognize the signposts and signals along the track indicating a drastic drop in the speed limit, a new report from federal investigators says. Six seconds before the derailment, investigators had said in late December, the engineer had made a comment about the high rate of speed and tried slow the train down.

The engineer, a 55-year-old male, told investigators he'd been aware of the speed restrictions at the curve near Seattle and that "he planned to initiate braking about a mile prior to curve", according to an NTSB report.

When he approached the 19.8 milepost - where the sharp bend is located - he "mistook" another sign, but applied the train's brakes "as soon as he saw the 30 miles per hour sigh at the start of the curve".

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

The engineer, who had 13 years of total experience at Amtrak, told investigators he applied the brakes when he saw the 30 miles per hour sign at the start of the curve.

The engineer, who has been with Amtrak since 2004, completed seven to 10 observational trips while he was qualifying on the Point Defiance Bypass section of the track.

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But after seeing mileposts 16 and 17, the engineer didn't recall seeing milepost 18 or the 30 mph speed sign about two miles before the curve, investigators said. He operated the equipment on three trips, two northbound and one southbound.

The conductor told investigators that there was minimal conversation during the trip because he was looking at paperwork to learn the territory.

The conductor was hired by Amtrak as an assistant conductor in 2010 and was promoted to conductor the following year. He said he heard the engineer mumble something, looked up and sensed the train had become "airborne", according to the NTSB. Both the engineer and qualifying conductor were seriously hurt in the crash, which caused a delay in speaking to them, the NTSB said.

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

In the coming weeks, investigators will compare the crew's accounts with video captured form the inward- and outward-facing locomotive cameras, information from the locomotive event data recorder and other sources, NTSB officials said in a press release.

The investigation is expected to last anywhere from 1-2 years.

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