Home / World News / Amtrak crews express concerns about training on new Washington route where train derailed – The Denver Post

Amtrak crews express concerns about training on new Washington route where train derailed – The Denver Post

By Mike Baker, Seattle Times

SEATTLE — To prepare for the opening of a new rail line, conductors and engineers typically go through training to familiarize themselves with the route, its landmarks and its speed limits.

Amtrak did some of those exercises along the new Point Defiance Bypass route, according to federal investigators, who said crews had made trial runs in the weeks before the line opened on Monday. But a number of Amtrak workers have expressed concern in recent days about the adequacy of the training, according to a person briefed on the matter who spoke to The Seattle Times on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss it.

The workers, the person said, were concerned that engineers had been piled into a single locomotive car to do training runs as a group, that conductors were largely kept in cars farther back in the train or on the trailing locomotive, that some did their familiarization runs in the dark after midnight, and that supervisors were unwilling or unavailable to answer questions about key route characteristics such as speed.

John Hiatt, a former railroad engineer who works as an investigator for a law firm that handles railroad accidents, said he has also heard from several Amtrak crew members in recent days who had similar concerns about the training for the new route, which was aimed at providing more daily round trips between Seattle and Portland. He said the concerns sounded credible and were a sign of a rushed effort to start new service without properly preparing crew members.

“What is accomplished by them being in the rear engine in the dark?” Hiatt asked.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said training will be among the issues they examine as they investigate what caused Monday’s derailment south of Tacoma, which left three people dead and dozens more injured. NTSB officials have determined the train was going 78 mph in a 30-mph zone when it hit a curve and jumped off the tracks.

It was not immediately clear if NTSB investigators had interviewed any of those concerned workers.

Amtrak said its training exceeds federal standards but declined to provide specifics about the training that took place on the new line, citing the ongoing investigation.

“Amtrak engineers and conductors comply with federal requirements related to both certification for the roles that they hold and qualifications for the territories over which they perform service,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds in an email. “Employees are encouraged to express safety concerns at any time.”

Engineers who operate the trains from the locomotive and conductors who often manage and supervise the trips from other parts of the train typically rely on signs and a timetable that document the route.

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