Derailment should prompt better safety policies


Our hearts go out to victims of the Dec. 18’s horrifying Amtrak derailment in DuPont, Washington, and to their families.

Perhaps one way to pay tribute to them is by promptly addressing the factors in this accident that could improve the safety of rail travel.

Although the National Transportation Safety Board investigation is just getting under way, some important questions must be answered by the public and private operators of passenger trains in Washington state and beyond.

Amtrak Cascades Train 501 was going 80 mph into a 30 mph curve when it derailed that Monday morning, strongly suggesting operating errors. This makes it eerily similar to a 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight and injured 200, when a train entered a curve at more than twice the speed limit.

Safety equipment that could have intervened in both incidents -- an automatic braking system -- was installed on Cascades Train 501 but not yet operational.
 Sound Transit, which owns the track segment and upgraded it with federal money passed through the state Department of Transportation, said the automatic braking system, known as positive train control, or PTC, was scheduled to be operational in the second quarter of 2018.

As the investigation and grieving continues, policymakers need to show the public that they’re doing everything possible to improve the safety of passenger rail service.


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