NTSB Releases Cascades 501 Accident Report

The National Transportation Safety Board last week released it long-awaited report on the derailment of Amtrak Cascades Service No. 501 in December 2017 and zeroed in the failure of Central Puget Sound Transit Authority to mitigate the hazards of a curve on the Point Defiance Bypass.

No. 501 entered the 30 mph curve traveling 78 mph. The resulting derailment killed three passengers aboard the train and injured 57 others. Eight people were injured after some cars fell on motor vehicles on Interstate 5 near DuPont, Washington.

The derailment occurred on the first day of operation for Amtrak on the Point Defiance Bypass.

By law, the NTSB is required to issue a single “probable cause” at the conclusion of its investigations, but the agency made 53 specific findings and listed 26 recommendations.

The NTSB recommendations were addressed to numerous agencies, including the U.S. departments of transportation and defense, Amtrak, Washington State and Sound Transit.

The report also singled out the safety of the Talgo Series 6 equipment used by Cascades Service trains.

It also noted that the locomotive engineer was distracted by the overspeed alerts due to his confusion about the bells and alarms and screens since he hadn’t seen those alerts during regular training.

The NTSB recommended that locomotive engineers receive more simulator training.

The report also noted that the conductor sitting in the cab was too passive, acting more like an observer than an active member of the crew.

During a five-hour hearing to announce the findings of the report NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt emphasized the need to focus on preventing wrecks rather than surviving them.

In particular, he spoke about repeated delays to implementing positive train control systems on routes used by passenger trains.

“Today’s new and reiterated and reclassified recommendations, if acted upon, will make rail transportation safer for passengers and train crews,” Sumwalt said “But they will require action by several parties, including the Federal Railroad Administration. The repeated postponement of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 270, ‘System Safety Program,’ has delayed needed safety improvements for passenger rail.”

After saying there have been six delays of the PTC deadline, Sumwalt called on the Federal Railroad Administration to act.

“It’s time. It’s time to move forward on it,” he said. “We want the FRA to move. They’re saying it will be done by September. It’s time. It’s past time, to get it done. There’s no other way to put it. It’s time, it’s past time, for the FRA to act. As we’ve seen, lives depend on the issuance of that rule.”

Among the key recommendations made by the NTSB, it called for U.S. DOT to require to require inward-facing image and audio recordings in locomotive cabs.

It wants the FRA to act more forcefully on PTC and hinted that all passenger service should operate in PTC territory.

The FRA should also study how better signage and wayside plaques might improve situational awareness for train crews, to compel better compliance with emergency lighting rules, to look into child safety-seat use and research how the compartmentalization approach to interior safety can be affected by the range of passenger sizes.

WSDOT was urged to stop using Talgo Series VI trainsets. Amtrak was told to work harder at training crew members and ensure that they can show knowledge of their territories.

Central Puget Sound Transit was asked to conduct an immediate review of all operating documents, coordinate to develop operating documents with current and prospective tenant on railroads where it is the host, and immediately review its safety program, analyze any gaps, and develop an action plan to address deficiencies.

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