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Sound Transit removes safety chief after ‘sobering’ review of fatal Amtrak derailment

Cars from an Amtrak train that derailed above spilled onto Interstate 5, Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

After reviewing the results of an independent review of 2017’s fatal Amtrak derailment, Sound Transit announced late Wednesday that it would be removing top safety chief Salah Al-Tamimi.

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The announcement came from Sound Transit head Peter Rogoff. He noted that findings from the review were “sobering,” outlining a handful of potential causes that led to the death of three people, and injuries to 80 others.

“There can be no compromises when it comes to safety,” Rogoff said in a news release. “We are grateful for the thoroughness of our consultant’s independent review as well as the NTSB investigation. You have my personal commitment that we will execute appropriate responses to every pertinent finding and recommendation to ensure that safety is priority #1 at Sound Transit.”

The train was on its inaugural run on the new bypass when it entered a 30 mile-per-hour curve at almost 80 miles per hour. It was previously concluded that the engineer at the controls had little experience on the route and missed speed limit signs warning him to slow down. A lengthy federal investigation placed blame at the feet of Amtrak, Sound Transit, and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

In this latest review, it was found that a “project specific Safety and Security Management Plan was not prepared for the Point Defiance Bypass.” While Sound Transit wasn’t responsible for the train itself, it had purchased the track it ran on in 2005, in an effort to expand Sounder commuter rail service from Tacoma to Lakewood.

Within that arrangement, the review found that “Sound Transit staff wrongly believed that WSDOT, not Sound Transit, was responsible for overseeing all activities related to Amtrak training and qualifications.”

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While Al-Tamimi was removed from his position as Chief Executive Safety and Quality Officer, Sound Transit has an offer on the table for a more junior role in a different department within the organization.

In the days ahead, Sound Transit will be reorganizing and separating its “quality management functions,” leaving one office “laser-focused solely on our safety responsibilities.” Quality assurance will in turn be managed by a separate department.

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