Standing at the site of the macabre scene where once speeding Amtrak passenger cars tilted at contorted angles, the now oversized caskets dangling precariously from the bridge above to Interstate 5 below, Richard Anderson took out his cell phone and texted Ken Hylander with a simple message: ‘We need you.’
Hylander had developed the safety program at Northwest Airlines, had followed his former boss Anderson to Delta Air Lines Inc. and now Anderson, having become Amtrak’s Chief Executive in the same year as the December 18, 2017 derailment, Anderson was calling Hylander out of retirement to address the carnage of twisted steel and tortured families who’d lost loved ones in the disaster of Amtrak 501 on its inaugural run having passed through our tiny community of Tillicum mere minutes before.
Coming to the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association meeting August 1, 2019 (6:30 P.M., Tillicum Community Center, 14916 Washington Ave. SW) is Washington Senator Steve O’Ban to address, like Anderson, not safety concerns but rather safety criteria.
“Before service resumes on the Point Defiance Bypass,” wrote O’Ban, “we need to be able to assure the public that all safety recommendations have been implemented.”
One of the changes for which Anderson has been agitating is “to allow tablets and ‘moving map’ displays to help engineers see where trains are along the right of way, just as he outfitted each pilot of Delta with a Microsoft Surface tablet to receive weather alerts and other advisories.”
Among the reasons that the Amtrak train derailed, killing three and injuring dozens, according to Stacia Glenn, reporting for the Tacoma News Tribune, was that “the engineer lost track of where he was on the route.”
Ted Mann writes in the July 6, 2019 The Wall Street Journal, “Unlike in aviation, where many pilot responsibilities are being automated, passenger-rail engineers in the U.S. memorize physical landmarks to learn their ‘territory’—the physical routes they traverse in the train—and are tested on milepost locations and where low-speed restrictions start and stop.”
But projecting for landmarks through training, and even so having the train become a projectile suggests Anderson is right. Reduce human error through upgrading technology.
Preliminary findings, according to a July 10, 2018 article by Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times transportation reporter, determined that the engineer of the train traveling at 80 mph on a 30-mile curve “tried in vain to see a speed-limit sign.”
Numbers of people have been killed, it’s true, while trespassing on railroad property. But, as if with a shrug of the shoulders, suggesting their demise should serve as a warning to simply stay off the tracks when the train itself could have stayed on the tracks – had all been done that should have been done – is vacuous and cavalier.
It is not enough, when – and if – safety is the primary responsibility, to simply proceed with caution.
If there are measurable measures to be taken that assure safety to stay off the track if you’re not a train, and stay on the track if you are a train, then make them happen.
Before this happens – and before trains take to the tracks – again.