A Tacoma, WA, jury has awarded three plaintiffs nearly $17M in damages as victims in the 2017 train derailment outside DuPont, WA. The accident killed three and injured more than 60 when the train left the track and plunged down onto Interstate 5. The 5/21/19 National Transportation Safety Board news release reads as follows:
Failure to provide an effective mitigation for a hazardous curve and inadequate training of a locomotive engineer led to the overspeed derailment of a passenger train that hurtled off a railroad bridge and onto a busy highway in DuPont, Washington, the NTSB announced Tuesday.
On the morning of Dec. 18, 2017, this train, on its inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, derailed on an overpass as it entered a 30-mph curve at approximately 78 mph. The lead locomotive and four rail cars fell onto Interstate 5 where they struck eight vehicles. Three of the 77 train passengers were killed; 57 passengers and crewmembers aboard the train and eight people on the highway were injured.
One of the passengers on the train and suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken pelvis, spinal fracture, cranial fracture and lacerations on his liver and kidney. Another passenger was crushed when one of the train cars fell from the overpass and landed on his truck. Both these passengers asked for damages for the ongoing impact of his trauma.
In June, the NTSB published its final report. The vice chairman described the train wreck as a “Titanic-like complacency” among those charged with ensuring safe train operations (see below).The Final Report excerpts include:
Had the positive train control system been fully installed and operational at the time of the accident, it would have intervened to stop the train prior to the curve, thus preventing the accident.
The qualification program for the Point Defiance Bypass did not effectively train and test qualifying crew members on the physical characteristics of a new territory.
The railway company program did not provide sufficient training on all characteristics of the Charger locomotive.
The engineer’s unfamiliarity with, and fixation on, the audible and visual alerts associated with the overspeed alarm reduced his vigilance of events outside the locomotive moments before the accident.
The railway company failed to update the operating documents prior to starting revenue service which would have highlighted the speed reduction at the accident curve.
The railway company did not take an active enough role in reviewing safety aspects during the preparation of the Point Defiance Bypass to ensure a safe operation.
The railway company failed to assess, evaluate, and act upon readily identifiable safety hazards to ensure the safety of the Point Defiance Bypass for the traveling public and its own train crews.
The railway company needs to implement a safety management system on all of its operations whether internal, host railroad, or in states that own infrastructure over which the railway company operates.
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The Vice Chairman filed the following concurring statement on June 3, 2019.
I concur with the report and its findings, probable cause, and recommendations, and I would like to add some additional comments. There was a Titanic-like complacency and certainty exhibited by those tasked with the safety, operation and management of the Point Defiance Bypass rail line before the revenue service started in 2017. Like the Titanic, the crash happened on the very first passenger run. The term “accident” is inappropriate because that implies that this was an unforeseen and unpredictable event. It was anything but unforeseeable. The NTSB has been investigating overspeed derailments around curves for decades. Likewise, NTSB has made recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and to the railroads to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) for decades.