Sen. O’Ban: Sound Transit employees should lose jobs for train derailment
State Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-University Place) wants to see Sound Transit employees paying the price with their jobs after the National Transportation Safety Board found Sound Transit to be significantly at fault in the fatal December, 18 2017 Amtrak train derailment near DuPont.
Three were killed and over 80 injured when an Amtrak train traveling from Seattle to Portland took a sharp corner at 80 miles per hour and derailed, crashing onto I-5 below. It was the train’s first run on the new Point Defiance Bypass.
After a 17-month investigation, the NTSB found that Sound Transit, which was responsible for the new tracks, did not adequately identify hazards on the tracks to prevent dangerous situations.
According to KIRO 7 TV, the NTSB also found blame with Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and the Federal Railroad Administration. Sound Transit, WSDOT, and the Oregon Department of Transportation all contribute to the running of Amtrak Cascades.
O’Ban, who represents the 28th Legislative District, the district in which the tragic derailment occurred, said that “the loss of life was horrific” to see in his own stomping grounds.
He finds it criminal that Sound Transit’s oversight led to a catastrophe that could have been preventable — though rather than seeing people go to jail, he said he would “settle for some people losing their jobs.”
“Sound Transit has plenty of money to buy competent people to do the hazard testing and reporting that was required here, but they failed to do it,” he said.
O’Ban explained that in a 2017 report on hazards requiring mitigation on the new tracks, Sound Transit did not identify milepost 19, the location of the crash, as a potential trouble spot.
“It was the most glaring hazard that anybody could have seen with clear eyes, when you had that terrible curve there, there in DuPont,” he said. “But that wasn’t even identified in the report as a hazard that required mitigation — which it was their job, as the host rail authority, to identify and disclose, and make sure the proper mitigation efforts were made. And they failed to do so.”
The reason for the oversight, O’Ban said, was the desire to premiere the new, faster Seattle-Portland rail route as soon as possible.
“Putting aside the lack of a need for this and the risks they’re creating within my district and within my communities, they wanted to get this thing off the ground before the end of the year because, for political considerations, they wanted to move it fast,” he said.
It speaks to the region’s obsession with trying “to get people out of cars,” O’Ban said.
“There’s … almost a religious fervor you see in Seattle for mass transit, as though we have to have this to be a reputable, legitimate city,” he said.
He does not just blame Sound Transit for the trail derailment, however — like the NTSB, he acknowledged the fault of the other transportation agencies involved, as well as contractors from the private sector.
Still, he does not see it as likely that a single job will be lost at those agencies due to the train derailment.
“I will predict that no one from Sound Transit will lose their job, and no one from the Department of Transportation will lose their job,” he said. “And I will go one step further — I doubt anyone from Amtrak will lose their job.”
If necessary, O’Ban plans to introduce legislation in the future to prevent such oversight, especially as Sound Transit expands its Seattle-area light rail network.
“We have to have some confidence that Sound Transit will learn from this error and do the kind of hazard testing for the other rail service that they hope to operate,” he said.