CHOKEPOINTS

Still no date for return of passenger train service at site of deadly DuPont derailment

Aug 12, 2021, 5:17 AM | Updated: 11:04 am
Point Defiance Bypass derailment...
Emergency crews work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The testing is done. Engineers are trained. But when will train service actually return to the Point Defiance Bypass, the site of a deadly 2017 derailment near DuPont?

Passenger locomotives run for first time on tracks since deadly crash

Empty trains began running the bypass route along I-5 south from Tacoma to Steilacoom early this year. It was the first time trains had been on the route since the crash nearly four years ago, which killed three people and injured 65.

The train that derailed was going 82 miles an hour approaching a curve over I-5 on the route’s inaugural run. The speed limit was 30.

The train careened off the tracks and onto the freeway, with some passenger cars dangling over the freeway from the tracks above. The NTSB blamed the crash on Sound Transit, WSDOT, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration over a lack of training and a lack of positive train control, which would have slowed the train automatically.

Over the last two months, potential engineers and conductors have been performing crew qualification runs — including full-service roundtrips — to get ready for a return to service.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff updated the board last week on how that training went.

“Twenty-three engineers, 34 conductors and nine managers were trained in the corridor, conducting end to end territory familiarization runs,” Rogoff said.

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

Sound Transit owns the tracks on this bypass, which cuts about six minutes off the old route along Puget Sound. The trains can go faster on this straighter stretch of track and experience fewer delays with freight traffic.

“The Sound Transit project team will be reviewing Amtrak training documentation, verifying and accepting, if merited, a safety certification document and ensuring completeness of the overall project requirements,” Rogoff told the board.

Sound Transit has not released a date for when passenger service will return to this bypass. It had been targeting this summer once this training and review was complete.

The need for returning trains to this bypass might not be necessary right away, as ridership between Seattle and Portland remains low coming out of the pandemic.

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Still no date for return of passenger train service at site of deadly DuPont derailment