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Details Emerge from Washington Train Crash, but True Causes Remain Unclear

Posted on January 3, 2018
by David P. McCormack

David P. McCormack
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A typically rough Monday morning commute was worsened on December 18th when a passenger train derailed over Interstate 5 in Dupont, Washington. The accident resulted in three deaths and 75 injuries, with several people being rushed to area hospitals in the aftermath of the crash. The train, taking its first pass over a new route from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon carried approximately 80 passengers and was manned by approximately seven crew members. Injuries were also suffered by car passengers on the highway below the tracks, where the train fell.

The ultimate cause of the train crash has not yet been established, and the collision remains under active investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. But, over the past two weeks, more details have emerged.

The train was moving at 78 miles per hour when it derailed – on a 30 mph curve built a century ago. This section of track was long known to be dangerous for high-speed use. The state’s 2006 long-range plan called out this section of the rail line for its “unsuitable sharp curvature”, which presented problems with “high-speed train alignment”.  

Although this section was recently rebuilt at a cost of $181 million, the “unsuitable” curve was left unchanged. Straightening the century-old curve and extending the trestle over Interstate 5 would have cost another $231 million.   

The work was part of a larger investment meant to upgrade to existing rail service between Seattle and Portland, making the route shorter and more efficient.   

In 2013, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson fought the higher-speed rail project, predicting it would lead to fatalities. “We thought a train-vehicle collision was virtually inevitable,” Anderson said to the Seattle Times. The case was dismissed in 2014, in part, because state law preempts cities and towns from regulating rail lines.

As discussed in a recent SUGARMAN blog “An Overview of Railroad Liability in Massachusetts”, railroad companies are governed by a complex set of state and federal rules and statutes regulating operation and management of railroads, train cars, and rail companies. They’re also known for aggressive and biased investigations of accidents.

It may be months or years before the full story of this accident is known. Why was the train going so fast? Why wasn’t the curve made safer? Was there a communication failure? A training error? Was negligence a factor? We don’t yet know.

With careful and thorough investigation by an experienced personal injury attorney, victims of train accidents can determine whether they are entitled to compensation for their injuries. SUGARMAN’s experienced personal injury attorneys have extensive knowledge of the intricacies of cases against railroad companies such as Amtrak and the MBTA, and have litigated many such cases.

If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in a railway incident, please fill out a Contact Form, call us at 617-542-1000, or email info@sugarman.com for a consultation. We are here to help you.