The Story on Amtrak Cascades Train 501 Derailment

First off, yes, I was aboard the Amtrak Train 501 in car 2, seat 4c. I had just sat down after having a breakfast burrito and speaking with several people in the bistro car. I spoke with the bistro attendant and her trainee that was with her. We talked about how great train travel is, how much better it is than flying, and we spoke with a passenger named Scott Claggett.

It was the first time Scott was taking the train on this route, which was also the first time for everybody at this hour! He usually had to fly and he was euphoric (as were most of us) at how easy and how much more comfortable it is. We discussed what I was up to, how I had my bike aboard and was bound for Portland to meet up with some friends, ride around the city, enjoy some tasty food and eventually head back on the late train that day.

I sat down and looked out the window. We whizzed by traffic over on the Interstate. We were easily doing full track speed limit of 79 mph. I could tell just from the rate we were passing the traffic on the road, but also how fast we zipped through Lakewood Sounder Station. The new tracks along this route are super smooth, solid, and stable. Then… well, back to this in a moment. First more of the events before.

First Observations, Rewinding Just a Bit

A few observations I made when boarding the train in Seattle. The train had a lead engine and a trailing engine. So no cab car. The trailing engine was one of the older engines, a Genesis, while the lead engine was one of the brand new engines that WSDOT just bought to put into service along this line. The train set itself was the standard Talgo equipment that Amtrak has used for service in the Amtrak Cascades corridor between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon for decades. It was older, but still perfectly reliable set equipment. As things go, most of these train sets and cars are perfectly usable for well past 40-50 years if maintained well.

Just before boarding we were even given these inaugural trip placards. A nice little souvenir I thought. I put it on for the moment, before heading out to board the train.

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Fancy. It’s always nice to have a souvenir!

We departed out of Seattle King Street Station 9 minutes late because of an issue, which it appeared was starting the lead engine. That’s the new engine. When they pulled the train out of the yard (the area just south of the train station) for boarding I suspect the Genesis engine was used and then the engineers/drivers went to the other end to start it. I shortly walked a little past my car 2 toward the new engine when I realized the train had both attached. I was curious and also excited to see how the new engine would handle the train set.

There were two Amtrak Staff, a man and a woman, talking happily near the power car (the car that manages electricity and such to the train set between the engine and the actual train set where passengers ride). I spoke to them for a minute, asking why the new engine was off, and jokingly I said, “are we just going to push the new one to Portland?” With a smile the woman responded that they were going to get it started in just a minute.

I boarded, found my seat and began unpacking my normal kit of stuff I use while on the train; laptop, cell phone for headphone use, and such. As any regular readers would know, this wasn’t my first train Amtrak Cascades trip by any means. I think it’s more around the thousandth trip or so at this point. I got my laptop, phone, headphones, etc all out and did a little web surfing. At 9 minutes after the train pulled out of the station.

Everything was very smooth, and the lead engine pulled really well and evenly. I was easily pleased with its performance from a passenger perspective. We made great time pulling into Tukwila Station, and then easily rolled up to 79mph or so on our way to Tacoma. On the way we flew by several Sounder Commuter Trains heading into Seattle. They travelling at 79mph and we traveling at 79mph gave us a fast closing speed of 158mph, which provides a slight whoosh whenever we pass.

The train slowed for the turns leading into and pulling into Tacoma. It was a smooth deceleration and we pulled into the new Tacoma Station. I had just minutes before this near Sumner grabbed a burrito and talked with the people in the Bistro, as I started this story. We’d stopped just before entering Tacoma, likely so a train could depart from our arrival track in Tacoma Station. We pulled in and waited for passenger to detrain and board.

Then we departed Tacoma. The last station this train would ever stop at.

We pulled and smoothly snaked through the turns leaving Tacoma Station and getting over onto the new Point Defiance Bypass. The tracks were super smooth, as I mentioned before. The train got up to running speed of 79mph very quickly and smoothly.

Time passed in a surreal way at this hour. With the sun just barely risen and an easy, relaxing glow along the horizon. I relaxed, snuggled in my chair and began to check email and a few other things before diving into some code I was going to work on.

Then in a matter of seconds as I looked out of the window waiting for the laptop to bring up something, I reached forward out of reaction to grab onto the seat back tray as the train lifted hard, catapulting me upward toward the luggage rack above. I hit my head hard against the luggage rack. In those milliseconds I realized we were derailing and I’d hoped we didn’t have a ravine or hill to fall down, it’d be no problem then. But the drop came and it was hard, I was tossed upwards into the luggage rack and then thrown across the seat row into the seat’s side across from me. The impact broke 4 of my transverse process pieces on my lower lumbar vertebrae. Of course, at this point I closed my eyes for a split second as I then was thrown against the floor of the car, slightly under the seats.

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Here is a good photo of the vertebrae and the transverse process, which is what is broken on me in four places on my right side now! Argh!

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These are the lumbar vertebrae, four of which now have my broken transverse process bones.

I held on for dear life. I got a lot of dust and dirt in my face, I spit, and closed my eyes for a moment while the car thudded, slid, banged, then dropped, slid, thudded, veered slight to an angle. I squinted just a bit to see as the car made these jarring movements. The power was off, and we hit again, but it was a complete stop this time.

WTF!?

First thought. I was hurt. But how bad. I thought, alright, what do I know. I’m hurt, but intact I think, I blew air upward trying to ensure dust wasn’t near my eyes and I reached around to clear my face. I felt blood. There was a fair amount of it on my forehead. I turned my head to both sides and pushed myself up from the floor a bit. The car seemed stable. I looked to my left and realized the ceiling was caved in and there was water that had poured in. I sniffed, I could smell just the once dormant dust, no fuel, no burning. For the immediate moment I seemed safe. I looked to my right and saw another passenger picking himself up. I heard a call for assistance from that direction, someone was hurt. I picked myself up more from the ground and could feel pain, but couldn’t determine how bad it was.

I looked myself over real quick. I wasn’t impaled, nothing seemed broken, at least at this point. I did know I was mostly suffering from blunt force trauma. I just wasn’t sure how bad. But I was up. I looked around to see where my phone was. I needed to get out, help others, and call if emergency wasn’t already called. There was another passenger to my left I realized as he came forward, stumbling just a bit, but upright. I saw they’d turned on their cell phone lights, I asked if they could “look for a white iPhone.” and I checked on the man calling for help. He’d fallen, or more likely been catapulted into the cargo racks by the floor near the front of the car. I leaned down, excruciating pain shot through my side. But I reached out and put my hand on his leg to reassure him and asked if he felt hurt (obviously, but wanted to say something to reassure). He said he was hurt. I told him, “yeah, you took a pretty hard thrashing, sit tight for a minute and we’re going to get coordinated to get out ok”.

I could see in his eyes the shock. He wasn’t entirely lucid just yet but he was starting to collect what was happening just like the rest of us. I stood, painfully, again shooting through my right side. I thought, “well, gotta ignore it, gotta get out and get people out of this. I know I’m in good shape compared to what some will be.”

For a split second I pondered what a rigid trainset (a good thing) like the Talgo would do falling. Where we all split apart in cars? I didn’t know. We could see toward the other cars, so our car 2 seemed split apart from the others. We had fallen too. The car seemed to be in a ditch or ravine of some sort. I looked out and of the window with clarity for the first time and saw the rail bridge a 30 feet or so above, which is where we should have traversed. That made sense why I’d been slammed onto the floor so many times on the way down the hill. I saw tree splinters and fragments of a few other things as I looked out.

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One of the fellow passengers found my phone and handed it to me. It was intact. I wiped it off and checked that it worked still. That was good. For now though, priority, get us out and help the others get out. We were able, we needed to get to safer ground. I turned to the emergency window and pulled the release seal off of it. Pain was evident, but I got it off the window. I started to pop the window out and remembered these windows are about 60 lbs, maybe 90, whatever it is they’re heavy and awkward. I asked, “hey, the window is heavy, help me out a bit?” and one of the passengers helped me get it to the floor of the rail car and slide it between some seats. As we gathered, I grabbed my back pack and stowed my laptop, which I’d seen right on a seat. It was filthy, but looked intact.

Information Backtrack

As I’ve read articles and seen pictures of the incident, I saw some pictures of car 2! Chris Scholls, who I assume was one of the passengers I was working with to help us all get out. Here’s one of his photos he took, which happens to be I believe my seat and the wrecked seat behind me. The caved in roof there, which I realize later after looking at aerial photos is from one of the other cars (I suspect one of the bistro/table cars) that came to rest against our car’s roof, crushing it in like this.

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The Railcar I was Inside of.

NOTE to Chris: Hey, thanks for helping me out and the others, and for finding my phone and handing it to me. Hope it’s ok I’ve posted your pictures here, if not, lemme know and I’ll fix. Again, thanks! Also, more on Chris’s observations here, he also helped the man tossed into the corner baggage. He’d gone over as I tried to get the emergency window off.

I slung the backpack on. All of us including the man who’d been thrown to the floor into the baggage compartment in the front of the car, were standing, mostly. The man who’d been thrown in the corner had immediately started to climb out the window but couldn’t get footing. The other passengers were helping him but it was awkward. I told him, “come back in just for a moment. Let me climb out and I can spot you.” I looked to the other passengers, somewhat to verify they would look at me and seem confident in the idea. In these situations I always try to look at others to also verify I’m not more injured than I actually think I am. It’s hard to tell when you’ve been impacted like this.

They looked back at me, and I could tell as they nodded that they agreed. We weren’t really saying much, verbal communication being a bit exhausting at the moment. So the man came back in for a moment and I leaned out of the window, putting one leg over as I looked down to verify I had something, anything firm to stand on. It was mostly soft dirt and splintered and broken trees and tree limbs. Obviously, looking back, it was disturbed ground as the engine had tore through this area before the car came to a stop here and tilled the dirt thoroughly.

I was able to get a slight step on a tree branch or trunk or sorts. I looked around a bit more before putting full weight on it to ensure I was going to lose it and stumble further downward. We were after all still about 10 feet above where ever the next car was in front of us. In those few second I observed that a pickup truck had the front right fascia smashed in front of us in the ditch too, and car 1 of the train had crushed into it. I couldn’t even imagine how that had occurred, we were all clearly off the highway in this ditch area.

Once I got stable I released my grip on the train car and let myself down enough to step from the tree trunks to the ground. The pain was very evident during this, my side feeling like I had stabs coming from inside my body outward. But I stood for a moment, saying, “one more second, let me get stable”. My cohort waited a second and then I looked back up to the car. The bottom of the window was now about where my head was. I reached up, left hand stabilized on the window edge. Right hand ready to help, and I reduced weight on myself where I was standing so I could stabilize more.

First the older man came down. I chuckled, as he accidentally kicked me in the chin, but it was a moment I realized if I’d noticed that I’m definitely lucid and coherent. I also finally started thinking about next steps as I helped him down. I helped the others and we all got down. I’m not sure who said anything or what, but we all seemed to decide to head up the hill, which meant going under one of the rail cars, but it seemed solidly placed. So up we went under and around the derailed mess to get to safer ground.

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Pic 1: We walked up the hill, and at the top of the hill I turned and took this picture. Market my position on west side of the tracks, then displaced to take a shot from the east side.

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Pic 2: I then, walked across the tracks in front of Genesis Engine 181 and took this picture. Relative same position but east side of tracks.

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Another of Chris Scholls’ Pictures, of where we walk up and through to get out. Good job on thinking of snapping some photos Chris.

More of Chris’ photos and interview on the news is available here.

On the way up I also saw one of the fatalities. He was familiar and I stopped to check his pulse, but as I painfully bent down realized it was to late. He was gone. I found out why he seemed familiar later, as we had met a number of times at rail advocacy group dinners. RIP Jim Hamre! We’ll miss you good sir.

I continued walking with others from my car, while we heard screams for help elsewhere, but none of us were really in the condition to help. So we continued up the hill to see if we could find others to assist by directing to the screams. We made it to the top of the hill and I took the two quick pictures above (pic 1, pic 2). I saw another severely injured person, I went to help, but another person that wasn’t as beat up came up and started helping him. I looked around and decided I couldn’t take any immediate actions to help, so quickly called my wife, father, and mother. I wanted to them to know I was ok before the TV News bombardment and all that began.

After that I walked among others who had gathered, checking if anyone needed help. After about a minute MPs (Military Police) from the nearby based arrived and I approached immediately to give what SITREP I could. Reporting the screaming from the flipped car near our car 2, the severely injured and others. They immediately leaped into action and linked up with the emergency response down the hill putting together a triage area and starting to coordinate command.

Everybody getting there onsite, and as I’ve learned, even more from the traffic in the street leaped into action almost immediately, until more emergency response could arrive. I also met Beverly and Charlie Heebner then, and assisted them down, then back around to appropriate positions to be taken away via emergency response. Beverly was a real trooper, in spite of her injuries, she’d taken two sticks and fashioned them as temporary canes to walk about. Charlie, stood with her and assisted. I really merely was there as extra assistance for a bit. They’re real troopers, and I saw them interviewed later on TV (at 1:19 in the video in this article/video on ABC News).

At this time I walked the track, from the Genesis engine (parts of it are seen in the pictures above, it was the trailing engine, number 181). I walked about 200 feet, maybe a bit further. I was looking for damage, anything that I could discern and report that may have been the cause or reason for this derailment. Mainly I was curious, but if anything popped up or I could help I wanted to make sure I could. I was also just exhausted, but with my injuries, I couldn’t really sit down.

Eventually I, per suggestion from fire response, headed down to triage myself. I could do no more and it was of no use for me to stay where I or others were on the hill. Only severely injured should stay so they could wait for ambulances to come to them. Otherwise it was better to displace to triage where we could organize and be taken to a more appropriate location.

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Looking back at the train from the triage area. Emergency responders clearly working and handling the tactical logistics of getting people out of the train, and keeping people safe in the situation unfolding.

When I walked up I immediately saw Scott Claggett. We started talking about the incident and our personal experiences of this horror show. Albeit our exhaustion, and the horror of it, we discussed how we would indeed be back on the train again. It beats flying, and is – in spite of this incident – still safer than taking a bus or driving.

I spoke to a number of people, many of who, if you’ve been watching the news, have been all over the news. I spoke to some reporters but I was honestly done. I knew I needed to get checked out. I was standing upright, I’d been helping, but I was in some serious pain and knew I’d gotten beaten up pretty bad by being thrown around.

I stood and waited with the conductor of the train. The conductor is the person, if you aren’t aware of how Amtrak passenger trains work, the person that generally is in charge of the overall train. Not who drives, but sits among the bistro usually and helps organize passengers on and off, makes sure tickets are collected and insures people don’t miss their stops. All of that kind of thing.

On this day the conductor made the first emergency call to dispatch, and got emergency on its way. When I talked to him, he was coordinating with the rest of the team on the train to coordinate injured with the emergency staff. He was also a bit beat up, but in spite of that doing his job and getting information out and coordinating as needed. Eventually we both took an ambulance ride, once the higher priority injured were taken away, off to St Peter in Olympia.

Upon arrival to the hospital, I registered in the ER but requested they put me back of the queue. I suppose they did, but even then, they got everybody in and cared for quickly. I got a temporary bed to get checked out and be brought in for x-ray and CT scan. One that was done I waited.

Eventually a nurse and then the doctor came to report the news. Which was bad news but mostly good news. The x-ray showed nothing but the CT scan showed I had broken what I’d mentioned before, the transverse process. It hurt like hell too and I had swelling and bruising. The good news, simply was, eventually I’d recover fully.

For the most part, my ordeal and hellish adventure was over.

Here are some links to other information related to the tracks & train that derailed.

Debunking and Verifying Reality vs. Trash Media and Idiot Twitterers

Let’s talk about a few other things related to this wreck and some of the news coverage. For the most part, the MSM or outlets like ABC News, NBC, and, others have been excellent a mostly been accurate. There’s a few specifics and nuances that are a little distracting, but the bulk of their coverage has been spot on. Fox has even done an ok job, but then there are the tertiary media, whatever one would call them. The mud slingers, trash, scum of humanity, who have purposely tried to push the wrong narrative, a broken and deceitful narrative out to misinform and rile up political agitators. I hate saying this but even one of Trump’s tweets, about the tax bill and infrastructure was horribly off base. He spoke of this infrastructure as old, when in reality it is new and extremely high quality. He misguided millions prospectively as well as the other horrible individuals out there trying to hurt, agitate, and push a political agenda while people are hurt, trying to help each other, or dying.

1st thing. The train was moving at 81.3 mph according to a speed recorder and last recorded GPS reading. This wasn’t extraordinarily fast for the 79mph segment of track, but where we had entered and the curve we derailed on was rated for 30mph. Which means that for a mere few seconds, maybe 10-20 seconds, braking was not applied for the 30mph turn. The track we had been on is indeed 79mph, so the idea or suggestion some might have that this was a runaway train and actually “speeding” as in, breaking the law, could be disingenuous. The train, for whatever reason, failed to brake. That is, from a perspective of physics, the culminating issue that arose.

2nd thing. The drivers on the highway that thought we were going fast would have because 79 mph trains had not particular run on this track in its history. It was effectively new track for these trains that would go this fast. So the idea they thought we were speeding, wouldn’t have been an accurate observation, except on the point leading up to where the train didn’t brake. That area however is in a valley, and the people on the road actually can’t really even see the train there. So this perception, albeit prescient of what was about to happen, was particularly an accurate perception considering it wasn’t something they’d likely be informed about anyway. No problem with their observation, but possibly a little inappropriate to take that perspective as it doesn’t add to the accuracy of what did or was happening. In a few weeks or months they’ll see 79mph trains on that corridor again, so hopefully it doesn’t trigger fear or worse, erratic behavior or actions on part of motorists trying to travel on the highway there.

3rd thing. I personally walked the track (as mentioned above) from which we came for almost 200 feet so I could personally look and see what was there. Nothing, absolutely nothing was there. No signs of track damage, structural issues, blockages, or even derailment occurring before the curve. So for the assholes out there blaming Antifa and trying to turn this into a political circus seriously just shut up and have some respect. You’re adding exactly zero and hurting many people in the process by your spurious lies, fear mongering, and trash talk – Most of the shit scum associated with the likes of Jack Proboseic, Mike Cernovich, Alex Jones, and other individuals that are routinely riling up people for pro-Trump agitation (and you could be pro-Trump, but these guys add a new realm of insanity to things) and hostile aggression toward a host of Americans (not just Antifa). I can’t warn people enough about these individuals, they are the scum that would initiate a “beer hall putsch” in a second against the American populace in favor for Trump or some similar fiat leader. They’re dangerous, uninformed (or they love the lies they spread), and generally a threat to those they agitate against and sometimes even for those they agitate for. Do note, I’m not even making this statement to be anti-Trump, just anti- these fear mongering, hate spreading, disgusting individuals that act to divide Americans with lies, misinformation, and other trash. Absolutely horrible actions they’re taking and disrespect they’re acting on.

4th Thing. Whoever misreported and didn’t confirm the false report of 6 deaths did a horrible job of spreading misinformation. There were 3 fatalities, not 6. Seriously, get your reports straight before going live with this type of information. Ugh.

5th Thing. This is one incident, keep sane and smart and don’t let the scariness of this incident make you fear train travel. It is still dramatically safer than automobile travel, safer than bus travel, and generally safer than most modes. The only mode option that beats it out is flying. So don’t gimme some mess about how scary it is, suck up those fears, and try to make smart decisions that are actually based in legitimate data for yourself instead of trigger happy FUD racketing.

6th Thing. In a knock on Trump’s hypocrisy. He’s a liar, simple as that, his budget will cut Amtrak, cut infrastructure, cut infrastructure not just for passenger service but for all modes (i.e. expect those highways to keep decaying too). Don’t believe the nonsense in his tweets. Just know that this is completely unrelated to his budget, will only be hurt, and will only cause more collapse of America to maintain, modernize, and improve transportation infrastructure in the United States.

7th Thing. Seat belts would have likely dramatically reduced actual injuries. Albeit trains should have them, they don’t. Also, even though it is perfectly safe to move around on a train, in wrecks like this people thrown from the train are usually the people who are killed. In this case I can attest to the fact that the people who did die, were in motion or transition while the train tore apart, and got thrown from the train. Resulting in their unfortunate deaths. If we want to basically eliminate these causes, minimize standing in between cars and maximize the time passenger spend in seat, safely seated and preferably belted. Again, I’d even have had no injuries but maybe being shaken strongly about if I’d been able to actually stay in my seat, but instead was thrown and thrashed harshly around. Maybe for future trips I’ll be bringing my own seat belt?

8th Thing. The nonsense the Lakewood mayor was complaining about in wasn’t even related to this incident. He was complaining that people wouldn’t obey the crossing gates and related things. Which seriously, people need to pay attention to crossing gates PERIOD, what is the deal with being idiots around crossing gates? Just chill out and don’t go blowing through them. They’re dropped on BOTH sides when a train is coming and there are NOT many crossings anyway. The entire line has sections like this, Lakewood isn’t a special snowflake. Anyway, this is something again, that has been offered by some news sources and a foreshadowing but is really more of an ill-placed anti-passenger rail complaint by the mayor. I could go on, but just suffice it to say, this is inappropriately related to this incident and negligent reporting at best, and outright dangerous in other ways.

126 Comments

    1. although i was watching from Burlington ont Can……from the get go you had me riding that train and feeling the pain………great story from start to finish….i wanted more…..R.I.P. TO THE DECEASED AND MY CONDOLENCES TO FAMILIES……..may you all ecover permentally from your ingeries……….thanks for the read…..

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    2. Was a fright train conductor for 22 yrs worked the California Zephyr for only 60 days before amtrack took over.. was in a train wreck… disabled… top notch live story … both parties suck… one party ( 2 heads)

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      1. Hats off to you good sir. Would have LOVED to ride the Zephyr pre-Amtrak! 🙂

        …and yeah, both parties are bad at this making progress thing. They’re also both pretty bad at modernizing and getting us a passenger rail system we should actually have!!

  1. just incredible. a horrible incident, but all the kudos to you for maintaining your calm, staying logical and being able to stay coherent and even more so the ability to document such an tragic event. feel better soon and here’s to a full recovery.

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  2. I was with you until you slammed Trump (#6). Blame Obama and his promise of “shovel ready jobs” that never came to fruition.

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    1. Except this is actually infrastructure and shovel ready jobs that were built from programs Bush & Obama’s administration oversaw. It happened and got built on their watch. Trump’s just spouting misinformation about his infrastructure bill which will cut these projects and others. Even likely giving us many other issues to deal with in the coming years. I’d give Obama crap too if he said something as dumb and full of misinformation, which on this blog in the past I have done just that.

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      1. Not true, it would behoove you to research this. There were actually a lot of shovel ready jobs that got things going. This isn’t an argument point, it’s just the reality of the situation.

      2. There’s a video, somewhere, of Aaron Draplin talking about designing the ARRA/TIGER logos and what it meant to the blue-collar Michigan friends. Couldn’t find it. It might’ve been at XOXO.

    2. The bypass for US 421 and NC 87 around the town where I live in central North Carolina was completed with Obama’s stimulus money. Traffic is much better without all the trucks running through the middle of town. Through the rest of North Carolina I-95, I-85 and I-40 were repaved in sections where the road was crumbling. Stimulus money was used to catch up on deferred maintenance. The shovel ready jobs did happen, improved infrastructure, and helped the economic recovery. Beware of misinformation.

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  3. Incredible story… but, it needs to be proofread and you can tone down the anti-Trump rants. I thought this was about a train accident?

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    1. Trump chimed in with misinformation. I added facts and a reality check to his tweet. I also added it at the end of the story because I didn’t want it in the middle of the event taking place. In the end, it’s always about the politics.

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      1. Thanks. I wouldn’t, I like to keep informed and stay abreast of all the information, especially when someone (it doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t’ the President) misinforms and misleads the public. This blog isn’t about kissing the President’s ass, it’s about bringing out the truth and setting the record straight. Don’t like the truth and the reality of the situation, I’m not sure how to help you. But here, that’s what you’ll get.

  4. Trump’s comment as the need for more infrastructure spending in relation to this accident are not as far off base as you suggest. Sure they spent the money to replace the rails, ties and ballast, but they didn’t have the money to fix the alignment or implement PTC fully, either of which likely would have prevented this tragedy. Consider if this had been a freeway project, and they left a 80mph section go into a 30mph curve because “they didn’t have the money”. The howls of protest would have started immediately and the money to fix it would have been “found” right away. But since this was a railroad, the public didn’t see that there was this obvious flaw in the current alignment. WashDOT, Amtrak and Sound Transit tried to make do with what they had on hand with tragic consequences. I knew this curve was going to be problematic, but never suspected it be the site of a catastrophe on day 1.
    It’s an unfortunate quirk of history that Portland and Seattle would be the only major city pairs in the US to have only a single rail line between the two. It was considered quite innovative in the early 1900’s to only have a single line shared by several railroads. A second line was partially graded, but a 11th hour agreement consolidated all train traffic on the shared route used today. But that means there is no alternate rail route that can be upgraded to be an exclusive passenger mainline separate from the freight trains for much of the distance between Seattle and Portland. This bypass was a step in that direction, but it will require a LOT more investment before a true High-Speed passenger rail route can be in place between Seattle and Portland.

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    1. Trump’s comments are misguided. Because everything he’s put forth includes cuts for passenger rail and poor investment into other infrastructure that isn’t in a good state of repair. So even though he tweeted that, his actions haven’t backed up his words. I would have given exactly zero response if it hadn’t been so misguiding.

      Yes, I also find it frustrating that here in the US we spend so much time with lackluster and practically 3rd world infrastructure, even when upgraded. Even our interstates really aren’t up to par with the likes of the autobahn or autostransa for instance. None of our infrastructure, as a whole, even holds a candle to Western European infrastructure. We got left in the dust sometime in the 60s and we haven’t recovered. But I digress, we’ve got a long way to go to get back in the game, in the meantime it would help if Trump would put forward something that actually DID improve infrastructure instead of cut it to shreds or shell out the money to corporate interests that aren’t getting things done in the infrastructure realm.

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    2. Oh, and to add… yeah, per your comment about paths between Seattle & Portland. I’ve always found the connection somewhat odd. But it was out here in some odd geography you know! It’s beautiful country and really amazing how it is connected.

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    1. I’m not really for seat belts, as I would have liked the option, but I’d rather just have solid PTC and related elements in place so we really just don’t need seat belts. 🙂

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    2. I too Donald liked his 8 things. But I do think seatbelts should be there so people who want can utilize them. I suspect most regular travelers would not, but I do think they should. But it’s almost moot because had the PTC been fully operational it would have taken over the train, slowed it down, and this wouldn’t have happened.

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  5. Can’t we leave out the politics. Obama was no friend of passenger rail either. Trump is not perfect, perhaps even crude, but I would rather have him than a socialist running the show. Yes, I like passenger trains, and I am retired after 52 years working on/for the railroad.

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    1. Not true. Obama’s put more into solid, reliable infrastructure than any of the last umpteen Presidents. However I’m not going to talk up Obama because I wasn’t really a fan either. Trump however has mislead, lied, reallocated and is reallocating capital and directing into private hands that will not be building anything, especially rail.

      All passenger modes, passenger trains, interstates, highways, airlines, etc – even for a rather libertarian leaning guy like myself are clearly constructs of socialism. At least at this point in history. None sustain themselves and all need Government infusions of cash to stay maintained, built, and expansion.

      I only brought up the political figures because THEY injected misinformation and more calamity into the matter. I added facts and clarity on the issue.

      Reply

    2. When Trump interjects BS like he did, hard to ignore. He’s beyond dangerous – not with standing pulling funds for infrastructure.

      Reply

      1. Well, they’re all socialists, we’re all socialist by some form or another. If one supports the police or say the fire, or even support public funding or roadways or schools, we’re socialists.

        But on the more elaborate notion, yeah, Obama was as much a socialist as Ronald Reagan was. So there’s that reality to deal with when we nit pick apart the actual policies and issues.

  6. Ben, I am so happy you survived this terrible accident! Your Christmas, this year in particular, should be a little merrier knowing you were able to walk away from that train. Wishing you a quick recovery on those bruised body parts and that your life returns to less dangerous events. Sounds like seat belts would be a welcomed addition. Thank you for sharing your story. nanC

    Reply

  7. Excellent writing. Glad to hear you will recover.
    Media sensationalism aside, you are correct about the relative safety of passenger rail.

    You are safer on a passenger train than on a tour bus in Mexico, that’s for sure.

    Multiple fatalities almost every day on our local interstate beltway, and nary any media comment except to lament the delays for those poor hapless souls delayed in their commute.

    Incredible media references to “bullet trains” and “high speed.” Why is 80 mph “high speed” and dangerous on a railway when these reporters (and most others) likely drive 80 mph in their own vehicles when they can.

    You do not mention positive train control, or any of the other technological advances that railroad moguls have failed to embrace. Yes it is a shame that both ignorant/distracted 4-wheelers cut off trucks, and can’t stay between the stripes, or that out of control truckers cause so much mayhem on the nations roads, and that they don’t teach drivers about much of anything anymore, especially rail crossings.

    But why are our railroads still operating with 19th century rules and technology, and why are our state highway departments allowing so many underprotected grade crossings to persist?

    Reply

    1. Lot’s of valid question good Sir. I’ll have to write more on a lot of that in the coming weeks. I’ve researched a lot, and there are answers, sometimes ones we’d rather not have. But at least we can keep moving forward and make things better! 🙂

      Reply

      1. This wasn’t meant to be high-speed rail like the TGV or the ICE. It was meant to be fast and reliable and operated on a clock-face schedule. A train every hour on the hour (or at :XX pst the hour) from Seattle to Portland and v.v.

    2. Railroads have not failed to embrace PTC, but have struggled to comply with the requirements is spite of the roadblocks in place by the federal Gov. BNSF for example has been ahead of he game since day 1 and would have had PTC fully functional except the feds require a radio license for each and every radio base station in place every few miles . The railroad had these all installed and ready prior to the first deadline, – except the FCC held up radio licenses for over 2 years – ensuring NO ONE could hit the first deadline- but did anyone report or acknowledge that ? NO . Plus the fact that it was federally mandated and the companies have to pay it all themselves- and at a little over $26,000 a mile – it runs into some multi-millions for the Big railroads..
      PTC is being established all over the nation – working out the interoperability issues as trains move from one railroad to another seamlessly takes a tremendous amount of technology, equipment, and testing.
      Just because some politicians arbitrarily mandate a concept be set in place – something that the technology for which doesn’t even exist at the moment they set the deadline is a pretty ridiculous hurdle – and all on the private companies dime..

      Reply

      1. I’m right there with ya. More should be uncovered how this mandate has been forced. I realize it’s super messed up, and didn’t intend to put blame to one organization (like the railroads for one) but know it’s a bunch of political inter-departmental crap that stymies it getting done. I’d love to chat more about it but haven’t known many that have much info. 😦

  8. Thanks for your very informative comments from someone who has actually on the train. I am glad that your survived to write another day.

    Reply

    1. Yeah, even though cars kill multitudes more people, and injure an almost exponentially larger number of people, if our rules were based on logic we’d have 6 point harnesses in cars AND have to wear helmets. But our safety rules don’t usually align real well in respect to actual dangers. 🙂

      But seat belts would have been nice.

      Reply

  9. Trump was NOT off base at all with regards to his tweet about our rail infrastructure. It’s long overdue for capital and while it’s cute you all have a nice new 14-mile bypass route and some Talgo cars, most of the rest of the country has tired equipment going on 40, 50 years old and bare bones to no service at all. If Trump becomes an ally in the push for desperately-needed investment, let’s put aside our political differences and get behind him 100% on this!

    Reply

    1. He made the comment in reflection of THIS incident though. He’s cut in budget and action anything to do with passenger rail. Read the comment again, I’m not off base. He’s gouging infrastructure spending of all sorts, not building it up. The only thing he’s bumped up is military spending. Research what he’s done, I’ve kept an eye on it closely as I advocate for infrastructure whenever I get a chance.

      Trump, IF he was pushing to actually advance infrastructure spending and build up this nation I’d be in lock step with the guy on that matter. But the fact is he’s put forth nothing that shows an increase in private or public capital to reinvest in American Infrastructure. Everything he’s suggested, put forth, or actually acted on has either drained funds or redirected capital in ways that will NOT end up in new roads, rail, or other infrastructure that is new, maintained, or repaired. I only give the guy a hard time because he spits out something like that in such an uninformed way that it’s just insulting to the victims. He should have just kept it at thoughts and prayers.

      Reply

      1. Trump should absolutely have kept his comments at thoughts and prayers. Same as in much that he says.

      2. Adron – Infrastructure is next on Trump’s agenda. He has been very supportive of improving passenger rail in the US to compete with nations like China, in particular. I tend to think passenger rail will fare REALLY well and he will get bi-partisan support resulting in quick passage. He even told the airline execs to their faces recently, “You go to China, you go to Japan, they have fast trains all over the place. We don’t have one. I don’t want to compete with your business, but we don’t have one fast train.” …Needless to say, there will be provisions for a fast train or three in his next bill.

      3. Please, please provide links to this. I’ve seen nothing except things that will cause defunding or complete roadblocks to fast trains. I’d be euphoric to see anything from the White House on this. If you’ve got it, please send it my way. I’d like some renewed faith in the US’s attempt to stay competitive.

    2. A reasonable suggestion from a courteous adult without an axe to grind. Refreshing.

      To the author Adron: We readers here are all appreciative of your efforts to recount your terrible experience, and we’re in hopes that your recovery is complete. Yours is a disturbing and informative account.

      As a writer, you would benefit from some quiet time spent with Strunk and White, copy-editing your offerings before publishing, and editing out acrimonious partisan material that belongs elsewhere.

      Best wishes as you heal.

      Reply

      1. That’s the most intelligent and well written retort to my advocacy against the mistrust and misinformation spread by some that I pointed out. Hats off to you good person who puts things in such a respectable phrasing.

        Yes, I would likely benefit from copy-editing, but unfortunately it’s just I who pens these blog entries. I do the research, learning, historical documentation, and editing all myself. Which leaves very little time for editing.

        I am currently still trying to find time to go back through and finish the initial edits a friend assisted me with. Eventually I’ll get those made, but in the meantime readers must get through the errors and correctly piece together the sentences with mistakes. With errors, I hope all know my apologies for those mistakes go with them. 🙂

  10. Well written account, thank you. It is something that a train travelling at 80 mph derails, falls off an embankment and piles up yet only 3 fatalities. Not to take away from the tragedy but that’s pretty impressive and perhaps says something to safety standards of rail travel. I do agree with seat belts but I imagine that will take quite awhile before we see those, they’re not even in buses yet! Hope your back injury heals well so you can return to cycling soon.

    Reply

    1. Agreed, trains are super impressive in their ability to keep people alive in spite of such a horrific crash! I can definitely say if the cars weren’t tough, or if this were merely a regularly car, an 80mph mishap off an incline like that would have certainly ended in my death! I’m very thankful for being here now, and being able to contemplate this. 🙂

      Reply

  11. Thank you for your narrative to this horrible event. I am so grateful for your actions as this terrible event played out. I am grateful your physical injuries will heal and that you will be back on the train. Thank you for letting us know.

    Reply

    1. Considering the slanderous nonsense HE brought up, I called him out on the lies associated with his remark. I told the story, and I specifically put comments on straightening out some of the misinformation that he and others spread at the end so one could still read and empathize with the horror of the situation. The simple fact is he’s threatened people by spreading such misinformation. I’d have called out previous leadership too. He’s no special snowflake to me, just a poor leader that’s struggling to act. At least he sent good wishes our way, but making it political was his action and I’m just trying to write an informative piece that has real concrete information in it, versus the misinformation that’s out there.

      Reply

    2. Why would you care if he does or doesn’t like Trump, or any one person for that matter? Why? It doesn’t matter. It’s personal and doesn’t interfere with your existence. Besides, he explained his reasons for dishing on the guy. PS, I like Billy Joel’s music but I think he’s an asshole. Digest that.

      Reply

  12. Glad you and the others are well. Very sorry for the loss of life. This was a great article and very informative. Thanks

    Reply

  13. Just 1 argument with your observations. And that was your 5th thing. That this was just 1 incident. Well Amtrak has had many incidents . This was just 1 of many. Safety culture barely exists at Amtrak and has resulted in dozens of incidents the last few years.

    Reply

    1. You have a valid point there Tom. Amtrak does have a pretty rough record of safety over time. Albeit few fatalities overall, but they’re just lucky they haven’t had more honestly. But yeah, good point. I’ll see about adding a point in there. As always though, it’s hard to get every detail in there. 🙂

      Reply

      1. Then you have to look at different states. Some like Virginia have had no passenger deaths in 40 plus years.

  14. Nice written article.Hope you have a speedy recovery. But two wrongs don’t make a right. You just stooped to Trump’s level. There are quite a few errors on this whole thing. Having thirty eight years
    in engine service, I think I have a fair amount of knowledge of this. FRA will have a full report sometime in the future.

    Reply

    1. Yup. I didn’t stoop, I corrected. There’s a decisive difference, if he had not stated such a misleading tweet I wouldn’t have had a comment to correct.

      The FRA & NTSB will indeed, at some point in the future have a full report. They’ll get into the details about what occurred.

      Reply

      1. Locoengr, what errors? I have been a passenger locomotive engineer in the PNW for 25 yrs. You make mention of this blog having “quite a few errors”.
        Care to elaborate instead of just making statements with no supporting argument???

  15. I think Ted Curphey’s comments are spot on. Amtrack administrators must have been aware that this section of track cannot support more then 30mph, so why would they risk sending a train across it at nearly three times the maximum rated speed?

    Put another way, how can a train with the mass of two engines and cars be expected to slow from 81mph to 30mph in the distance needed to avoid derailment while traveling through the curve?

    If Amtrack was aware of the speed limitations of the curve, were the engineers prepared with that information in advance in order to begin slowing the train so that it would have been going the proper speed at the time that it hit the curve? This accident suggests to me there was no such communication. I would expect there to be map showing max track speeds somewhere. I wonder whether this rises to the level of negligence on their part.

    Having lived in a country with high density and a very strong rail system, I’ve been underwhelmed with the inadequacy/inefficiency of the rail system here, and frustrated by the lackadaisical approach to it by administrators. Even the ticketing and boarding system is antiquated!

    Reply

    1. There is a map, and training occurred, but the NTSB is checking into this more intensely right now. I know they were indeed in a hurry to get active on the line and start the new frequencies. So it might have been training wasn’t adequate for the line. As for the distance between 79mph running and 30 mph running, there was 2 miles, which is plenty of distance for one of these trains to slow down for the curb. However, it only leaves about ~30-45 seconds to actively brake before it is to late. So any distraction, which may have been the cause, might be the root of the derailment. An unfortunate mishap.

      Reply

  16. Excellent article!

    In politics, there is a term: optics, which refers to how things look. One aspect of the incident’s aftermath that I have yet covered is the optics of the graffiti covered bridge.

    Why does this matter? For at least an half hour, probably longer, until other camera angles became available, it was a wrecked train under that graffiti covered bridge that people stared at. To many people, graffiti is a sign of decay and disuse. Even people to whom graffiti does not trigger subconscious associations of decay would not think it bespeaks of well maintained infrastructure. Thus, even though the track was brand new, what people saw was something much more visually akin to the semi-abandoned branch line it had been.
    One of those people who was viewing that seen was Donald Trump. As a life long New Yorker with memories of its subway system in the 1970s it is highly unlikely that he saw that bridge and thought it was a piece of well maintained infrastructure. Whatever his views of infrastructure reinvestment actually are, there was something (and it does not take much) that triggered him to tweet. A tweet from a president becomes part of a political narrative. It reinforces previously held beliefs, on both sides, to the detriment of informed assessment of the problem. The need to rebuild infrastructure can easily become its time scrap Amtrak, because its junk.

    It wasn’t just Donald Trump. In one of the more bewildering moments of the coverage, one of the networks (I believe MSNBC but am not entirely sure) went full on tin foil hat and noted that the graffiti looked Russian – perhaps a connection???

    In both cases, and to the thousands daily that will pass beneath that bridge and recognize it as the site of the accident, the graffiti speaks to a subconscious set of associations that are detrimental to rail travel. One never sees graffiti painted on airport walls. WSDOT needs to know that optics count.

    Reply

  17. Excellent escape while helping others.

    Dupont and Spuyten Duyvil train derailments beget comparison. Both in December 18th 2013 vs 1st 2017. 7:19am vs 7.33am. Travelling straight around 80 mph headed into left 30 mph turns and into the eastern sunrise. Can the drivers see the 30 mph signs? I hope the NTSB don’t miss the similarities.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December_2013_Spuyten_Duyvil_derailment
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Washington_train_derailment

    Make a fast recovery. Get the best physiotherapist (will save weeks). Look forward to seeing you downtown.

    Reply

    1. Holy smokes, I didn’t even think about that. The drive very well might have not even been able to see based on sunrise. Holy shit Clive!!! Good call, I’m gonna have to discuss this with some folks. Positioning and all isn’t all that great for this and at that hour, it’s the first time the engineer might have been on the route at THAT hour, which is exactly when the sunrise was taking place. Oh man, such a bummer if that was the stupid thing that distracted him! 😦

      Reply

      1. Hard to see how the sunrise would have been a problem unless the low sun reflecting off the speed limit signs rendered then unreadable. This is a remote possibility, as conditions were reported as foggy with rain. The tracks leading up to the 30mph curve are headed almost due west, so the sun , if it were visible, would not have been in the engineer’s eyes. Heading north on the freeway at that location on a clear summer morning at sunrise is a different matter.

      2. Ah, you have a point. Much of the trackage departing Tacoma is south bound, but yeah, right there the track has taking a long turn toward the west, right before cutting back over I-5 and then down to the mainline trackage. Guess sun wasn’t an issue in that regard. However as you also point out, it could have just gleamed right off of the speed indicator. Hard to tell, I was looking out the window and the sun was creeping out of the tees at the time. Having just risen it was bright, but no idea how it might have played a role.

    2. So you are suggesting that the NSTB should check to determine if the engineer was blinded by the eastern sunrise and did not see the signs for lowered speed limits?

      Reply

      1. Too similar to not check.

        Spuyten Duyvil, NY. Dec 1, 2013.
        Twilight (dawn) 06:31
        Sunrise 07:01
        Derailment 07:19

        Dupont, WA. Dec 18, 2017.
        Twilight (dawn) 07:17
        Sunrise 07:52
        Derailment 07:33

      2. I seriously think the dawn hour actually had some significant play in this scenario. Causing a lack of situational awareness. Not able to prove it at this time, except for my own experience, but the engineers on this route haven’t run at this time. Morning hours are rougher for some than others, and this does amount to a few second of inaction and inattention in the end, sadly enough.

  18. Chilling read! I admit, after hearing of this story I subconsciously swore off the train, but if you can survive this and talk about how great trains are on the scene, maybe I shouldn’t swear them off. And I agree on the Trump sentiments, trains are progression and anything holding that back is moving backwards. Great read!

    Reply

  19. Thank you for story and the help you provided. I am formerly a SP Engineer based in L.A. I don’t follow you on the braking ? I worked up until 1979. Shouldn’t the engineer know he had to be braking at the 30mph post? The way you put it it sounds like the brakes are automatically applied? You mention that politics should remain out of it. I believe you should of refrained from it also. It just caused the crazy comments, for them to spout their political beliefs . Absolutely no place in any disaster to make it political. Thank you again and prayers for all injured and deaths that occurred.

    Reply

    1. Props on the SP work sir! The engineer should have known, and likely did, but might have been distracted or even missed the post. It was first run at that time of day and the sun was just coming up. Lot’s of factors to take into account. Was it obstructed? Not obstructed? NTSB will get it sorted I’m sure.

      As for the politics, as previously stated, our President dove in. I merely corrected the record that he misled the public on. As for the other belligerents (Jones/Proboseic) they offered information that was wrong and also attacked groups (Antifa, love em’ or hate them) that had NOTHING to do, thus endangering more innocent people. Additionally causing distraction from actually gathering legitimate and concrete factual information about the incident. No telling how much time that actually wasted when Washington State Patrol & NTSB started their work. They have to look at everything, and their process is slowed when they get a bunch of nonsense piled into the incoming feeds. Anyway. You get the point, I’d love to leave politics out of it, but if the President is going to go and blurt out stuff that misinterprets, then act like he’s gonna fix something while he’s been continuously slamming the Amtrak and related passenger rail budgets and investments, he’s being highly disingenuous and misleading. Not me, he’s doing it. I just called him out on it.

      Reply

      1. The issue is political, even before politicians injected themselves into it. Adron also tried to keep it away from Trump, highlighting the Alex Jones types that REALLY made a mess of it.

        But hey, if that’s what you gathered from this article, okay I guess.

  20. I very much appreciate you sharing all of this. Seeing something horrific like this on the news, it touches all of us and we want to understand how it was for the people onboard. Human empathy makes us worry a little bit about each fellow in our large tribe of humanity, and perhaps part of that is the selfish concern of: ‘how would I deal with it if it happened to me?’ and knowing how others coped helps us to answer that. There is always that incomplete feeling after reading a significant news story because there’s so little of that perspective. Thanks so much.

    And: I really respect how calm you stayed, sticking a pin in the process of mentally processing this horrific thing that just happened, just get everybody out of the wreckage and then think about it. Props, man, big props.

    Reply

  21. As an Amtrak engineer that works on the route, I have to thank you for your pragmatic report. It can’t be easy to leave your emotions behind.

    To the people that want to politicize his account, take a deep breath and leave him alone. This isn’t the place.

    Reply

    1. Thanks. Hats off to you too, I know even if not on the train, you’ve got cohort, friends, and family that will be touched by this. May the holidays be a time to heal up as best as we all can. 🙂

      Reply

  22. Hey politically-offended assholes, this is Adron’s blog and he can write whatever the heck he wants. Get over it and if you can’t, don’t read it.

    Also why don’t you put aside your bs and have some compassion.

    Reply

  23. I was behind you, in 5c, and was the guy who ended up in the luggage area near the front of the car. Without your help (I remember you saying your back was injured) I would not have gotten upright and out. I will be forever grateful.

    Like you, I suffered fractures of the transverse processes. Mine were in the C1-C3 area. As you may recall, I was essentially wedged into that luggage area and upside down on my head and shoulders.

    I tried, but, couldn’t get out that window. A few minutes later two JBLM Fire and Rescue personnel came through the front of car one and cut a passage toward the highway. They tended to a badly injured man in car 1, then led the remaining 4 of us out and up to triage. The adrenaline got me there as, in addition to the neck injuries, I had >75 lacerations (50 on my head and neck), and was leaking pretty badly under my raincoat.

    I’ve spent the last week thinking about you and the JBLM rescuers. If any one of you had not done what you had done, I question my own ability to get out (my pathetic “help me” resounds in my dreams).

    Thanks you, again, and I wish you a speedy and full recovery.

    Reply

    1. Hey D Jones! So glad you got out. You were a bit beat up indeed! 😦

      More than thankful I could help you out and help you get some aid. Best wishes to you healing up solid good sir, and your “help me” was important, we all need to signal as best we can we hurt. It’s not always easy for those aiding to figure out what is best to do next in the chaos!

      Reply

  24. Excellent narrative regarding the accident. But the anti-Trump diatribe and the pandering to the libtards is laughable at best.

    Reply

    1. I didn’t pander to any liberals, classical liberals, or anybody in any way. Check that reading comprehension, you’ll note I pointed out where some people were dramatically and dangerously wrong. Including the inference our President made.

      Reply

  25. An awesome report, and I’m thankful that so many came away not more seriously hurt, as well as saddened at the three lives lost. I’m surprised that you found so much of the media coverage was “spot on” as I found many glaringly inaccurate reports all that day. I also agree with your admonitions of the conspiracy theorists, fear mongers and outright BS peddlers. My only disappointment in this whole thing was your Anti-Trump hate mongering. Trump simply made a statement about infrastructure with obviously inaccurate information, information I seriously doubt he researched himself, that is what aids are for. If he was given bad information, he’s certainly not the first president to make erroneous statements to the press, and it hardly warrants such vitriol in your remarks. Perhaps sticking to the facts of the incident and leaving the political commentary out would be a better plan in the future.

    Reply

    1. I never said I hate the guy, I merely pointed out the political statements Trump made misled and were not accurate. A complete desecration of those that died, and a slanderous swipe at rail passengers. I do NOT hate Trump, if there was any one feeling I have for him is pity. But there’s no hate on my end. It doesn’t matter if his aids were supposed to do something or not, if he had any actual respect for the passengers he might have held his partisan statements and instead acted to at least do something that he thought would make things better. Instead he dishonored the fallen, the injured, and all involved in trying to make the situation better in spite of the chaos.

      Considering the harm he’s doing, overall, my vitriol is weak and tempered. Ask some of those dead, buried, or losing any type of well being because of his actions. One one end I get screamed at by Trump fans, on the other end I get screamed at for not being harsher in my admonitions. I can barely blame those that have been slighted, shorted, or worse, lay dead in the grave because of his actions. But I don’t see any reason why I should sign praises of the guy when he doesn’t even have the same respect for you or I.

      Reply

  26. I love trains and have made that run from Seattle to Portland. I was sad to hear they bypassed the Tacoma water front. I am glad you took the time to write what happened. I am unhappy that you had to bash our president.

    Reply

    1. If he hadn’t slighted Americans like you, or I, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to correct the record. But saying I bashed him, when I merely pointed out his misinformation and slight again the victims of this incident, as if he plans to do anything other then cut transportation spending except to maybe increase automobile welfare and subsidies, his statement is an insult to you and I.

      Reply

  27. It’s astonishing to me that medium/high speed passenger rail went through the entire twentieth century with so much reliance on engineers’ memorization of the routes they travel. And in many places in this country this system persists – not only no PTC, but no automated prevention systems aside from trackside signage and signals, not even cab signals. More so than automobiles, the stopping distance of a train at speed can far exceed the distance that the operator can directly perceive the hazard he/she is facing. Reliance on signage or other passing visual signals is bound to fail every now and then given the inability of any human operator to have a 100 per cent perfect attention span. In this particular case, of course, we don’t know the “cause” of the accident to be a momentary human failure. On the other hand the complacency and inertia of the railroad industry and its government overseers is way beyond acceptable. It’s hard to understand the willingness of the system to satisfy itself by blaming the inevitable occurrence of mishaps on engineers who, like the rest of us, are simply not equipped by Mother Nature to function perfectly all of the time. Hopefully, this will be the last fatal train accident ever – but that’s unlikely. Like the airlines, the railroads must be forced into safety processes that are absolutely ruthless at eliminating system faults as they are discovered. It’s hard to believe that trains can’t be made safer than airplanes, yet today that isn’t true.

    Reply

    1. In this particular case, it’s the Government which has failed to step up and the freight railroad has actually implemented PTC in this corridor.

      It isn’t so much any one failure, but a collective failure of this nation to devalue and short change one mode over another for whatever the reasons (many of which I know, just not enumerating them here).

      As for this corridor, it’s Amtrak and Sound Transit that has not completed the PTC installation and setup so they can turn it on. But maybe even Sound Transit has, and Amtrak is the laggard. Whatever the case I agree, it isn’t acceptable and should have been put in place decades ago. But as things are, the US stands decades behind the advanced nations of the world when it comes to transportation technology.

      Hopefully, as you state and we all hope, nobody ever experiences such horror again. We can and should do better!

      Reply

  28. Adron: Your piece is by far the finest and most balanced treatment of this awful tragedy. I hope the NTSB and the STB are readers of it!

    Thanks for finding Jim Hamre and for checking on how he was. What a loss! May I share a tribute to Jim Hamre and Zach Willhoite? I was allowed to eulogise Jim at his funeral on the 30th of December. My words then were just about Jim as a person and a friend. Hopefully this can be a more complete view of two men whose loss is unimaginably cruel–particylarly under the circumstances.

    Jim Hamre (age 61) and Zack Willhoite (age 35) were each others best friends and mine as well. I can’t begin to process the grief. I talked to both as recently as the Saturday before their ill-fated ride, as they were so happily driving from Tacoma to Leavenworth, WA to photograph the Amtrak Seattle–Leavenworth Christmas train. On Sunday they rode the last runs via the Point Defiance Line. Zack was thrilled to have bought the last ticket at the “old” 1984 Tacoma Amtrak station–a one way from Tacoma to Tukwilla that, of course, he never would have used–a true piece of history. And for rail advocacy their loss is incalculable.

    Jim was a long-time member of the NARP/RPA Board. He was quiet, effective, wrote with such fluency and beyond all else was kind and deeply caring. Zack was beyond a computer whiz, a man who could plan bus schedules, fix computers, analyze complex problems and then have such fun driving his preserved historic Pierce Transit bus. And did Zack ever love pepperoni pizza, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Star Wars!

    Both were perfect symbols of what advocacy for balance in transportation should be. Jim was a highway engineer who deeply supported multi-modalism. Zack took the same perspective from his work in the bus side of public transport.

    Through my career running tours by train all over the world I got to travel with them to places that really “got” public transport. Jim went with me all over Europe, joined by Zack in Switzerland. Together with their friend Malcolm Kenton they went last year to Inno-Trans, the great passenger rail industry biennial trade show in Berlin. Jim went with me to New Zealand, Australia, Canada and virtually everywhere in the United States.

    Jim helped me as a co-tour manager on countless tours from the 1980s to my retirement in 2015, starting on BC Rail trips over the whole thousand mile line from Vancouver to Fort Nelson, B.C. He served meals, carried bags, helped set up photo lines, talked trains, history and culture with fellow riders and once assisted in finding two confused elderly passengers who got lost on a Skytrain in Vancouver. He spent hours searching station after station until they were finally located. Zack amazingly did the same thing once in Switzerland, finding a couple who had gone the wrong way on a Swiss trip, because the trains run on the left there and they got confused by boarding a train going for them the wrong way on the right-hand platform. Jim and Zack were the best in so many ways!

    And that was barely the start. For NARP Jim went where-ever needed, criss-crossing the country to Board and Council meetings typically four timers or more each year. He gave over 35 years of similar effort to the Washington Association of Railroad Pasengers/All Aboard Washington For his family he could not do enough. He helped run a Thrift Store for the poor in Puyallup, WA through his church. He cared for his mother, his family and his friends. I never knew a finer person and could always count on him.

    Zack had gotten married only a year ago, and like Jim helped care for his mom. His internet “handle” was Busdude1 He knew so much about not only busses, but also light rail, trams, streetcars and of course passenger trains. He had a rapier wit, but was never mean.

    You could count on them both. Both men were funny, smart, effective and that they are gone as it was is not so much ironic as cruel. But they did so much and it was all good!

    They had worked for over 20 years to improve rail passenger service in the Pacific Northwest–indeed Jim was already active when I met him in 1981 at a Washington Association of Railroad Passengers meeting. The vastly improved Cascades Corridor is their memorial and legacy. In 1981 there were only two daily round-trips and one tri-weekly train between Seattle and Portland. Because of advocacy, positive support from both the state and Federal governments and a truly responsive Amtrak and BNSF in the northwest, there are now 14 daily Amtrak trains (7 round-trips) between Seattle and Portland, 2 more round-trips to Vancouver, the Empire Builder to Chicago and over 20 commuter trains every day on the Seattle-Tacoma-Lakewood part of the line–the greatest volume of passenger service in history to Seattle, and Tacoma.

    May I also re share my Facebook tribute to them:

    As we all knew they would be, Jim Hamre (of All Aboard Washington/WASHARP and a Board member of NARP) and his great friend Zack Willhoite (also an AAW/NARP activist) were on Amtrak Train 501 on the first run over the new route yesterday and they were, unbelievably, two of the three killed in the horrible derailment of that train.

    I can’t even begin to express my grief! Zack was the kindest, smartest, most decent guy, and even more an extraordinarily insightful friend. Jim Hamre was quite simply the brother I never had, my best friend and a far better person than me.

    I met Jim in 1981. Even then he was working on citizen advocacy for public transport. We leafleted, went to public meetings, mutually joined the NARP Board, but mostly had fun together. I met Zack through Jim. They were soul-mates. They went with me on tours I led to Europe and the world. We ate pizza together, laughed together, saw glorious scenery and wonderful places. The last time we were all three together was with Taylor (Zack’s wife) and Jim’s so beautiful mom Carolyn at his house for a steak barbecue last July.

    I spent a week then with Jim to visit Hells Canyon, the Columbia Gorge, the Sumpter Valley RR, ride rental bikes over the Bitteroots on the Hiawatha Trail (ex-Milewaukee Road mainline grade) and to talk trains, politics, history, friends and simply to share with someone who could finish my thoughts and keep me sane. And I saw Jim again (thank God) for five days in Chicago last month at the NARP 50th Birthday Conference, but sadly not Zack. Our mutual friend Warren Yee was there, and that is a comfort.

    I’m going to have to be unusually quiet for me to take this in, but oh God what a bloody waste. Three fatalities too many and so many of us knew two of them and they were so fine.

    Carl Fowler
    President (Retired)
    Rail Travel Center/Rail Travel Adventures

    Reply

    1. Hey Chad… I’m going to print this as a blog post. This is wonderfully worded and does great respect to those gentlemen. Thanks for posting it here! They will indeed be missed!

      Reply

      1. Adron;

        Thanks. What a terrible loss. I think about them every day.

        I hope you’re feeling much better and will push on. You offer abvery interesting blog!

  29. Is this train between Tacoma and Portland now BACK on the waterfront route, travelling under the Tacoma Narrows bridge ?? And for how long ?? Thanks

    Reply

    1. That is correct. I’ve seen no specific news about when service would be returned to the Point Defiance Bypass or when service would increase back to the promised number of trains per day.

      At this time the last thing I read was Amtrak reports it will finish the PTC installation before resuming service on the Point Defiance Bypass. Until then the Amtrak trains are running on the more circuitous route for now.

      They’ll not be able to resume the promised levels of service though until they are able to retrieve a Talgo train set to replace the one destroyed. The only two additional Talgos in the United States right now are the ones Wisconsin failed to put into service. They’re supposed to be going to California, but maybe Amtrak and WA/OR can work out a deal with California and instead send some other equipment to California and get the Talgos here in the northwest, since they make a real difference with their tilting mechanisms.

      For now though, that’s all I know.

      Reply

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