The tragic Amtrak derailment raises 3 big questions for investigators

  • An Amtrak train derailed in Washington state on Monday, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more.
  • The train was travelling at 80 mph in an area with a 30 mph speed limit when it derailed.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board expects to investigate the scene for about a week before beginning to determine the cause of the derailment.
  • It will have to determine whether any objects were on the track and whether the track had safety technology designed to prevent accidents.

An Amtrak train derailed in Washington state on Monday, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more.

The train was making its first trip on a new section of a route between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, that was part of a $US181 million project to cut travel times. While the Washington State Department of Transportation said the tracks for the new section were tested and inspected by multiple agencies before they were cleared for use, some local officials had concerns about the route.

The National Transportation Safety Board began its investigation on Monday to determine the exact cause of the accident, but during a press conference on Monday evening the agency said data taken from the train’s rear car revealed that the train was travelling at 80 mph in a 30 mph zone.

The NTSB is not sure why the train was going that fast and expects to investigate the scene for about a week before beginning to determine an answer, but a few other questions could shed light on the matter.

The first is whether there were any objects on the track that could have caused the train to derail. Though the track for the new route was tested for over six months, an object could have fallen onto the track after the testing period.

Another question is whether positive train control was installed on the tracks for the new route. PTC is a technology that can detect when a train is going too fast and automatically engage the brakes if it senses the train could be headed for an accident.

The NTSB has supported PTC throughout the years, and according to CNN the tracks where the train derailed were equipped with the technology, but it was not yet in use.

A third possibility is that the engineer, the person who drives the train, made a mistake, either failing to recognise the speed limit or properly adjust the train’s speed. Sound Transit, the regional agency that owns the tracks, said there were signs to warn engineers of the speed-limit change 2 miles before the point where they would have to adjust the train’s speed.

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