Amtrak engineer appeared to lose track of where he was, NTSB says

The Amtrak engineer in control of the train that derailed south of Tacoma last month told NTSB investigators he didn’t see signs like this one warning of a curve 2 miles ahead

The locomotive engineer told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board that he knew a sharp curve was coming up, but as filtered through the NTSB, he said he "didn't recall" seeing the advance speed limit sign.

The Amtrak Cascades Train 501 derailed December 18 near DuPont, Washington, and hurtled off an overpass onto Interstate 5, killing three people and injuring dozens more.

The engineer and conductor, who were in the lead locomotive during the December 16 accident, were unable to be interviewed until recently due to their injuries.

He reported feeling rested at the beginning of his shift that day, and says he was not distracted by the conductor in the locomotive with him.

The engineer said that he did see the wayside signal at milepost 19.8 - at the accident curve - but mistook it for another signal, which was north of the curve.

"He said that as soon as he saw the 30 miles per hour sign at the start of the curve, he applied brakes".

The NTSB in a preliminary report released earlier this month said that PTC would have slowed down the train.

The engineer had experience on the Point Defiance Bypass section where the derailment occurred.

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Two of those trips were driving northbound, the NTSB said.

The engineer told investigators he felt rested at the start of his shift, and the conductor in the vehicle with him told investigators the engineer seemed alert.

The summary involved interviews with the engineer and conductor, which took place about a month after they suffered serious injuries in the wreck. He felt rested at the start of the trip, he told investigators.

The 48-year-old conductor told investigators that he spent most of the trip looking at his paperwork to familiarize himself with the territory. He said he heard the engineer mumble something, looked up and sensed the train had become "airborne", according to the NTSB.

The conductor was hired by Amtrak as an assistant conductor in 2010 and was promoted to conductor the following year. He told investigators that the engineer appeared alert during a job briefing and while operating the train.

The conductor has since sued Amtrak, alleging they failed to provide a safe work environment.

NTSB said it will continue the investigation by comparing the crewmember accounts with information gained from videos and a data recorder, and will consider human performance and operations, as well as signals and train control, and track, engineering and mechanical factors.

The investigation is expected to last anywhere from 1-2 years.

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