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Amtrak derailment
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Two-day investigation into deadly train derailment begins Tuesday

The Amtrak 501 train hangs over southbound I-5 in December 2017. (File, Associated Press)

A two-day investigative hearing on recent Amtrak-related crashes, including the derailment that killed three people in DuPont, begins Tuesday.

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The National Transportation Safety Board will hold the hearing July 10-11. The public hearing will focus on the Dec. 18, 2017 derailment over I-5 and the Feb. 4, 2018 crash involving a freight train in South Carolina.

Parties who will attend the hearing include the Federal Railroad Administration; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; the Brotherhood of Locomotives Engineers and Trainmen; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; CSX; Sound Transit; Amtrak; Washington State Department of Transportation; and the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The crash in DuPont shut down southbound I-5. It occurred during Amtrak’s inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass route. The passenger train was traveling at approximately 78 mph when it entered a sharp curve and derailed. Three people were killed and 62 were injured.

The derailment led to increased pressure from the federal government to improve safety. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao sent letters to all executive officers of the nation’s Class I railroads, stressing the “urgency and importance” of implementing positive train control system by the end of 2018.

Positive Train Control uses GPS and other technology to automatically slow a speeding train and prevent crashes. Congress ordered railroads to have the safety measures in place by 2015, but extended that deadline to the end of 2018 after installation became too complex — there was a possibility of extending the deadline to 2020 as well. The technology was not active when the train derailed in DuPont.

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State Transportation Secretary Roger Millar later said there was no requirement to have the safety backup in place prior to the inaugural run to Portland.

“Positive train control is not a pre-requisite for safe operation,” he previously said. “It’s certainly a value-added safety overlay. It will be a requirement — a federal requirement — on December 31, 2018. It’s been around as a concept for better than 40 years. Originally, there was a requirement that it be in place nationwide by December of 2015, but Congress extended that to 2018 and even to 2020 for some issues. So we are all working on a December 2018 deadline.”

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