Devastation struck DuPont, Washington on Monday, December 18 when the Amtrak Cascades 501 train derailed on its maiden voyage from Seattle to Portland. The train was carrying 86 people when it rounded a curve at nearly three times the speed limit. It left the tracks and hurled passenger cars off an overpass and into rush hour traffic on the road below. More than 100 people were hospitalized and at least three passengers were killed.
Speed was obviously a factor in this crash, but why was the train moving at 80 mph around a 30-mph curve? The train’s engineer has not yet been interviewed at the time of this writing, and it is hoped that his statement could shed light on the cause of this catastrophic train accident.
Another question that is being asked: could positive train control (PTC) have prevented the accident?
The Fight for Positive Train Control Systems
Positive train control can automatically slow down and stop a train if it senses that the train is moving too fast or could get into an accident. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, PTC is the single most important rail safety development in more than a century. It combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from crashing, derailing or going too fast for rail conditions. It was designed to prevent the human errors that caused almost 40 percent of train accidents.
By the end of 2018, United States railroads are required to implement PTC systems.
The stretch of rail where the Amtrak crash occurred did have PTC installed, but for some reason, it was not active at the time of the accident, much to the chagrin of National Transportation Safety Board members.