Beginning December 18, 2017 Sound Transit said 14 Amtrak trains, at 79 mph, would pass through Lakewood at the following times: A.M. – 7, 8:25, 9:40, 10:35 and 11:05. P.M. – 12:20, 2:10, 3:15, 5:30, 6:15, 7:10, 7:50, 8:45 and 9:35.
One, just one, the first one, made that trip. But never reached its destination.
December 18, 2017 Amtrak 501 derailed just south of Tillicum spilling train cars onto I-5, killing three and injuring dozens.
Since then, and for the foreseeable future if State Sen. Steve O’Ban has his way, passenger trains won’t be coming through town anytime soon either.
O’Ban, who represents Tillicum and is a republican member of the Senate Transportation Commission, wants a legislative oversight committee to ensure this time, the next time, and the time after that where transporting people and safety protocols are concerned, the latter is checked and double-checked by a panel that’s accountable given it would be comprised of elected representatives, not agencies joining the stampede to grasp federal stimulus money – and sacrificing safety in the process.
“Passengers and the communities in my district,” O’Ban said, “through which this service will travel are entitled to certitude that the NTSB’s (National Transportation Safety Board) recommended steps have been taken. And the people should be able to feel confident that someone is looking out for their interests.”
Amtrak wasn’t. Nor, for that matter, were Sound Transit, Washington State Department of Transportation, and the Federal Railroad Administration according to the NTSB’s recently completed investigation into the accident.
According to Stacia Glenn, reporting for the Tacoma News Tribune, the NTSB “blamed Sound Transit for not sufficiently mitigating the danger of the sharp bend, Amtrak for not better training the engineer, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for not ensuring the route was safe before green-lighting a passenger train and the Federal Railroad Administration for using rail cars beneath regulatory standards.”
When Doug Baldwin, then wide receiver for the Seahawks, came to Tillicum Elementary School for an assembly October 10, 2017, his “Stay Back from the Tracks” safety presentation was meant to be “unforgettable.”
It was, just not in a way anyone could imagine. Just over two months later, Amtrak 501 was unable to stay on the tracks.
Why not? And who was responsible?
According to New York Post, “‘The sharp 30 mph curve where an Amtrak train derailed in Washington this week was not supposed to be there at all, according to a new report.
“An $11 billion Washington State government plan to speed up passenger and freight rail service throughout the Pacific Northwest called for an elimination of the turn. But that request was not included in the final design, once the state won federal funding for the Point Defiance railroad bypass south of Tacoma, Wash., The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
“The plan was ditched because the turn in question was deemed too costly to remove, the outlet reported, citing documents and state officials.’”
Corners were cut financially, and a curve of track left in place irresponsibly, and lives, costly, irreplaceable lives were lost.
Now there is an unforgettable lesson.
Speed kills. So can cutting costs.
Amtrak, WSDOT, et al had their chance to do safety right the first time. They didn’t. Now it’s the people’s turn, by way of their elected representatives.
Coming up: The Rail Division of WSDOT will be part of the featured presentation at the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association June 6, 2019, 6:30 P.M., Tillicum Community Center, 14916 Washington Ave. SW.
To watch the four-plus hour NTSB May 21, 2019 meeting – or to view any of the segments – of the investigation of the Amtrak derailment click here.