Speed, human error the cause of Sunday’s train derailment, Amtrak says

STEILACOOM, Wash. –- Amtrak said Thursday that speed and human error were the cause of a train derailment in Steilacoom over the weekend.  The Amtrak train engineer was found at fault after going over the speed limit of 40 mph.  That sent six cars off the track near Chambers Bay.

It’s the same thing that happened in Philadelphia in 2015 when eight people died after an engineer hit a curve going more than 100 miles per hour.  He now faces manslaughter charges.

“Bridge openings happen all the time,” said Steilacoom resident Quinn Rasmussen.

But it wasn’t a typical weekend for Rasmussen after his family boat went through the other side of the draw bridge at Chambers Bay.  He says he watched as the Bridge Tender did his normal routine until…

“He saw this Amtrak coming and he knew this Amtrak wasn’t supposed to be there,” said Rasmussen.   “He ran to the Amtrak to wave to him and he was going too fast at that point…”

Quinn says he saw the bridge tender jump 20 to 30 feet from the tracks into the water.  BNSF tells us he suffered minor injuries.

“The person furthest over just yelled get out, get out because we didn’t know how fast the train was going. It would derail and fall in the water?” asked Rasmussen.

And for the passengers inside the train -- fear and panic.

Thursday, Amtrak concluded it was the train engineer at fault releasing a statement saying, “The train failed to slow to the maximum 40 mph speed limit while approaching the bridge. As a result, a derail switch activated.”

Amtrak says the train engineer is now suspended.

“He’s the only one I could see who would be at fault,” said Rasmussen.

A Positive Train Control System might’ve been able to stop this.  BNSF already has the satellite technology that could prevent collisions and missed signals.  Amtrak doesn’t have to install it until 2018.  So for now, the Amtrak Cascades is back up and running without the new safety feature.

Along with the Bridge Tender, one passenger also suffered minor injuries.  Three passengers were treated for heat exhaustion.  This is the first time the Amtrak Cascade passenger train has derailed since it began service in 1999.  Just last year, another train went off the tracks near the Tukwila Station.