Gig Harbor man recalls deadly derailment as safety changes progress
DUPONT, Wash. - Railroad officials have been fast-tracking safety measures on local passenger lines as the region marks one year since the deadly Amtrak derailment that killed three people and left dozens hurt.
Tony Raimondi of Gig Harbor was one of the passengers aboard Amtrak 501, and remembers how the train took a turn too fast and derailed. A year later he still has marks where his legs were badly gashed, but it's images of broken cars and bleeding passengers that really stays with him.
“I think about it every day,” Raimondi said. “I just go through the thing and think about how fortunate I am. It could have been a lot worse."
Amtrak has since been working with state and federal regulators to launch positive train control, a system that can slow or stop a train that is not being operated safely. The federal government ordered all passenger railroads nationwide to implement PTC before the end of this year.
As of October, Amtrak made PTC standard on all its lines operating in Washington state, thereby beating that deadline.
“I think it adds another layer of safety,” Raimondi said.
Amtrak has also revamped training protocols and launched a safety management system, all to keep a similar tragedy from happening again.
“I just feel really sorry for the people who lost loved ones and for the people who were hurt,” Raimondi said.
There are limits to the kinds of accidents that positive train control can prevent. For example, PTC will not stop a train because a trespasser or a vehicle is blocking the tracks.
Still on hold for Amtrak is re-opening the Point Deception Bypass route, which is the set of tracks where the deadly derailment occurred.
“WSDOT has made the commitment that we will not return to the Point Defiance Bypass until the final report is issued from the National Transportation Safety Board. We expect that to happen sometime in late spring,” said Janet Matkin, a spokesperson for WSDOT’s rail, freight and ports division.