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New route on which Amtrak derailed closed for now

KOMO file photo

TACOMA, Wash. -- The head of the Washington State Department of Transportation will suspend all passenger rail service along the rail line where Amtrak 501 derailed on Monday. The service won’t resume until a Positive Train Control system is in place - at the very least - says Ron Pate, Rail and Freight Director for WSDOT.

“We want to give folks time to take a breath and then we will decide where to go from here," Pate says.

The absence of PTC on the rail line has been a big part of the discussion in preventing train derailments and accidents. The technology uses GPS sensors in the train’s locomotive and sensors embedded in the track to override controls that could prevent excessive speed and slow the train down.

NTSB investigators says the rear locomotive’s data recorder had the train at 80 miles per hour when it crashed on a curve near Dupont, Washington. The speed limit for that section of the track is 30 miles per hour.

The accident killed three people and injured several dozen passengers, including the crew of five on board.

Pate says the Secretary made his decision after feedback from several communities along the rail line that showed concern about the high speed passenger trains.

“We want to work with the community, we’ve heard a lot of concerns, so we are not going to be operating that line until PTC is in place," Pate says.

WSDOT invested $181 million to upgrade the line to handle high speed trains and a new Amtrak terminal in Tacoma using federal grant dollars. Monday was the first day the rail service began for passengers. It was going to cut the travel time between Seattle and Portland by 15 minutes.

The line, which is owned by Sound Transit, will continue to be used for freight and military trains, the restriction issued Thursday is just for passenger service. WSDOT and the Oregon Department own the Amtrak Cascade Service, the locomotives and several of the passenger cars but contract out to Amtrak to operate the trains and handle the passenger service.

A statement from Amtrak says it “has committed to pay for the costs of the derailment including all the medical and incidental expenses incurred by those injured and their families, the clean-up and repair of the roadway, and the restoration of passenger rail service.”

The statement also says: “To the extent other parties involved have responsibilities related to this incident based on the facts determined by the NTSB, Amtrak will work with those parties directly at the appropriate time. “

The NTSB has shifted its investigator to the front locomotive and rail cars that now sit in a lot at Joint Base Lewis McChord. Pate says his department will respond to the findings from the NTSB investigation.

“The NTSB is going to do a great job with what they do, people want answers and we want to give time to people to get those answers," Pate says.

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