On December 23, 2017, Mr. David Anderson wrote a letter to The Suburban Times titled, Letter, Amtrak should go back where it came from.
You will not get any argument from me regarding what an unnecessary tragedy the Amtrak Train 501 death and injury-producing derailment turned out to be for the train’s passenger / victims along with their friends and family possibly all around the world and our community at large.
Additionally, I wish to compliment City of Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson along with our City Council for making a concerted effort, including legal action, to block the new 80 mph danger producing train from being routed through our high density population city.
While I can agree with Mayor Anderson and citizen David Anderson along with all seven of the citizen comments tied to David Anderson’s letter, I wish to share an essential and vital concept for everyone to seriously consider.
The source of the concept I am about to reference radiates from my having served as a police officer, criminal investigator, collision investigator including two train collisions and multiple fatality investigations.
Based on my study of incident investigation and my background experience, I feel it is crucial that we, as members of the general public, not arrive at any premature conclusions regarding who was right or wrong related to the Amtrak train 501 derailment until the investigation is complete and all information is made available to the public.
If we look at the incomplete evidence the citizens involved with the Ox-Bow incident had before them, they were not wrong about the suspects’ guilt. When the posse received all the evidence needed to make an intelligent judgment, they recognized their mistake. By then it was too late because they had left three innocent men swinging in the wind. The miscarriage of justice was the product of a lynch-mob demanding instant justice.
At this juncture, the Amtrak 501 derailment remains under investigation, and there is a multitude of unanswered questions such as the following:
- Did the engineer suffer an unreported and previously undiagnosed medical difficulty such as a stroke, heart attack, diabetic attack, or an incident of Vasovagal Syncope? If he or she did, the engineer might have been injured and unconscious long before the crash making him a victim too.
- Was terrorism involved?
- Was there a defective equipment problem such as faulty brakes or a stuck throttle or GO switch preventing the engineer from slowing the train from 80 mph to 30 mph? (Do trains have throttles or GO switches?)
- How about felony level malicious mischief such as cutting the brake lines?
- Did someone purposefully damage the railroad tracks?
- Did the engineer have alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs in his or her system?
- It was reported that Amtrak 501, which was the first train making the first trip on the first day, was one half hour late leaving Seattle. Did the engineer’s ego duplicate a Titanic style thinking and judgment pattern whereby the Amtrak 501 was thought to be invincible? If the Amtrak Train 501 was thought to be invincible, then 80 mph in a 30 mph curve might appear doable. The pressure to arrive in Portland on time could be cause to cloud the crew’s judgment.
The list of possibilities that could help defend or prosecute the involved parties including the engineer goes on.
While most of my suggested possibilities may well be proven wrong, we still need to wait until all investigative information is available, before passing judgment.
If the engineer is guilty of any act or omission that proves to have placed the lives of others in peril, the engineer deserves to face the criminal and civil consequences of his acts or omissions.
Next week I will be heading to court for Jury Duty. One of the court’s fundamental questions of me will be, as a juror will I be able to maintain an open mind until I have heard all the evidence? The Open Mind concept should be applied to the Amtrak 501 derailment tragedy as well.
None of us want another train wreck. Most, if not all, of us, want proper consequences applied to those guilty of any wrongdoing as quickly as possible.
Conversely, none of us should want to repeat in DuPont the evils of the citizen actions depicted in the movie, The Ox-Bow Incident.
David Anderson says
In “The Seattle Times”, December 21, 3:40 P.M., Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokeswoman Barbara LaBoe said, “officials were wanting to have renewed conversations with communities along the new route.”
Accordingly, at 10:25 A.M. on Friday, Dec.22 I left a message on LaBoe’s phone to see if WSDOT would present at our Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association (TWNA) meeting Jan.4.
On Dec.26, mid-afternoon, I received a return call from WSDOT and the gal said they were not ready yet with answers to the likely questions (no doubt those such as yours Joe) but would keep us on the list of people to contact when they were.
Mr. Boyle, I question why we shouldn’t arrive at premature conclusions. Where’s the harm? This site labels itself a community bulletin board where readers can express opinions. Along with others, I’ve expressed my opinion regarding this dreadful accident, and I certainly won’t be called to testify in court based on what I think.
I frankly believe that all parties are beginning to lay groundwork so as to avoid any culpability regarding what happened. We’ve read that the the engineers are now saying that they didn’t receive proper training (translation-not our fault). We’ve read that Sound Transit didn’t have the funding to replace the overpass (not our fault). We’ve read that the Department of Transportation was unable to properly complete the project due to Congressional time limits tied to funding (not our fault). So far, I think, Amtrak hasn’t come forward with any excuses. But they’ll just throw money at all those injured and the families of those killed and call it a day.
As a point of comparison, the NTSB concluded that the 2015 Philadelphia accident, in which 8 passengers were killed and 200 were injured, was due to a lack of situational awareness on the part of the engineer. The train was travelling 100 mph in a 50 mph zone and the engineer was criminally charged. When the matter went before the court, the presiding judge ruled that the evidence didn’t support such charges and thus dismissed them.
So it’s my premature conclusion, if it matters to anyone, that in this accident neither a person nor an agency will be held accountable. And if that’s what happens, it’s a disgrace.
William Marsh says
Good point by all. It also sounds like Ride at Your Own Risk, nobody is responsible for your safety or Health! That AMTRAK crash down by Chambers Bay area ( actually Chamber’s Creek by the train Bridge) was a warning that maybe some readers have already forgotten. I have seen that train going past Chambers bay Golf course, and it’s hauling Grass. So really what are the real controls on this train? One Engineer has a good day or a bad day, what are the safety’s to ensure that the control of these passenger trains are kept in control or shut down if the engineer has a health problem? Pilot and Co-Pilot engineers? Two guys in the command and control of these passenger trains, not just one person. Concerns before this train ever started where heard but dismissed. Now we start over and it has to be done better and done safe. Trust, Safety, Health of all passenger’s and all the towns and the people in these towns need AMTRAK to change there process in passenger Travel on this Line. Or Pave it and make it a Bus Line Only!!!!!!!!!!
Beverly Isenson says
Three cheers for Joe Boyle! Unless you are one of those rare people who has never jumped to an erroneous conclusion about something, or heaped blame on someone who did not deserve it, or was blamed for something that you had little or no control over, etc., you should reflect on your own behavior and show some humility.
Don Doman says
Joe, once again you have given us wise words to read and contemplate. It never hurts to gather all of the facts to do justice to any situation. With any journey there are sometimes dire consequences. I wrote an article about enjoying the old route. Many of the comments I received were negative, not about the train ride, but about the potential for death on the new route to walkers and automobiles at railroad crossings.
I worked for the railroad for over thirty years: a short time with Burlington Northern and the majority with Amtrak. I’ve seen a woman killed before by an Amtrak train as she walked with her head down crossing the tracks. Another employee at our Tacoma station jumped onto the tracks to pull someone out of the way as an Amtrak train approached. People and vehicles cross tracks all the time without a thought in the world about death, but it happens. Almost any form of transportation can cause death.
I like the old route because of the scenic views, but people are often killed on that route as well. People are pretty independent, and we sometimes think we are indestructible, but we are not. I’ve seen comments about the route being used just to reduce travel time. It does that and more. The tracks between Nisqually and those going north from Edmonds to Bellingham are prone to landslides. In heavy Pacific Northwest rains there was always potential for mudslides, which either result in derailments or track repair. Derailments can easily cause deaths.
In addition to a reduction of mudslide problems, a major concern is the Nelson-Bennett tunnel between Ruston and Salmon Beach. Freights and passenger trains have to go through the tunnel one at a time. An accident within the tunnel could be a major problem. There is not a sidewalk inside the tunnel, but people never the less have walked it as an adventure. – http://wikimapia.org/1831528/Nelson-Bennett-Tunnel-South-Portal.
Burlington Northern and Amtrak are working to make train travel safer. No one wants to be responsible for death and injury. Investigations are done not to find someone to blame, but to improve the system. Evidence should be viewed and studied to find out if improvements can be made. There is no way to make transportation by train completely safe for everyone, but change can be looked at and decided upon. Rushing to conclusions can cause heartbreak and tragedy. Decisions shouldn’t be made by the posse. They should be made by the experts.