Expert: New route may have distracted engineer before crash – Train was doing 80 mph in a 30 zone

A damaged Amtrak train car is lowered from an overpass at the scene of Monday's deadly train crash onto Interstate 5 Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. Federal investigators say they don't yet know why the Amtrak train was traveling 50 mph over the speed limit when it derailed Monday south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By PHUONG LE,  Associated Press  SEATTLE (AP) 12/21 — Experts say it’s possible the engineer on an Amtrak train that derailed as it hurtled into a curve at more than twice the speed limit was distracted for an extended period of time before the train plunged off an overpass and onto a busy interstate, a key factor in the investigation.

Authorities on Wednesday reopened two southbound lanes of Interstate 5 – the Pacific Northwest’s main north-south arterial – that had been closed since Monday’s accident as federal investigators focused on whether the engineer’s attention was diverted by a second person in the cab, or by something else.

Three men were killed Monday south of Seattle when the train barreled into a 30 mph zone at 80 mph. Southbound lanes of Interstate 5 near DuPont had been closed at the accident ever since.

Train cars are jumbled together with vehicles below a railroad bridge at the scene of an Amtrak train crash onto Interstate 5 a day earlier Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. Federal investigators say they don’t yet know why the Amtrak train was traveling 50 mph over the speed limit when it derailed Monday south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

 

A conductor in training who was familiarizing himself with the new route was in the locomotive with the engineer at the time. A federal official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity said authorities want to know whether the engineer lost “situational awareness” — didn’t realize where he was.

Rail-safety experts say that while it is fairly common to have two people in a cab, investigators will look into whether that may have distracted the engineer.

“What interactions were the conductor and the engineer having and did that distract the engineer from his focus on where they were on the route?” said Keith Millhouse, a rail-safety consultant who was former board chairman of Metrolink, Southern California’s commuter rail system.

Millhouse said the two could have been having discussions that caused the engineer to not realize where he was on the route.

“My guess is there were probably distractions not only immediately prior to the accident but in the minutes leading up to the accident,” he said.

Investigators had not yet interviewed the train engineer and other crew members — all of whom were hospitalized — as of Wednesday morning, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said. Experts say investigators will want to talk to them as soon as possible while the event is still fresh in their memory.

NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said Tuesday they were in the early stage of the investigation, and authorities won’t determine a probable cause while on scene. She said distraction is one of the most looked at priorities, and investigators will be looking at cellphone records of all employees.

Dinh-Zarr also said the engineer did not manually activate the emergency brake, which went off automatically when the train derailed.

“This is a situation where the engineer should have been starting the braking application probably a minute before they reached that curve,” said Allan Zarembski, a civil engineering professor who directs the rail engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware.

“It suggests strongly that the engineer was distracted for a fairly extended point of view,” he said. The information so far “seems to suggest that there was an operator issue here,” he said.

In some previous wrecks, train operators were found to have been seriously fatigued or distracted by a cellphone or something else.

Railroad unions have repeatedly urged adding a second crew member in the cab. Former NTSB chief railroad crash investigator Ed Dobranetski disagrees.

He has said putting multiple crew members in a locomotive was “more of a distraction” than a safeguard.

The former investigator pointed to a deadly 1996 collision near Washington, D.C. between an Amtrak train and a Maryland commuter train that had three crew members in the cab. The engineer of the commuter train was thought to have been distracted by a conversation with the other crew members. The train ran through a speed restriction, reaching 66 mph in a 30 mph zone, and blew through a stop signal before slamming head on into the Amtrak train.

Eleven people were killed.

“Conversation creates a potential for distraction and interference with the engineer’s retention of information, in this case the signal information,” the NTSB wrote in its report on the 1996 crash.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that Amtrak President Richard Anderson told him the rail company would pay the costs of the derailment as well as the medical and other expenses of the victims. He also said Anderson would try to ensure a technology can automatically slow or stop a speeding train — known as positive train control — was in place statewide before a Dec. 31, 2018 federal deadline.

That technology was not in use on the stretch of track involved in Monday’s crash.

Regulators have been pressing railroads for years to install such technology, and some have done so, but the deadline has been extended repeatedly at the industry’s request.

On Wednesday, crews in Washington state removed a train locomotive from the crash site and cleaned up debris before reopening the freeway that typically sees about 60,000 cars a day. The train, with 85 passengers and crew members, was making the inaugural run along a fast, new 15-mile bypass route.

___

Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles, Sally Ho in Seattle, Michael Sisak in Philadelphia, Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, and Manuel Valdes in DuPont, Washington contributed to this report.

___

For complete coverage of the deadly derailment, click here: https://www.apnews.com/tag/TrainDerailment

https://www.apnews.com/2c28e50699d44831b53f78733fcec72b/Expert:-New-route-may-have-distracted-engineer-before-crash

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Accidents, Emergency Services, Federal Agencies, Injuries, Investigations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

twenty − 13 =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.