Accident investigator weighs in on DuPont derailment

Accident investigator weighs in on...

DUPONT, Wash. - The inaugural trip along a new train route in Western Washington ended in tragedy Monday. 13 passenger cars derailed in a horrific scene - some crashing off an overpass and onto the busy Interstate 5 below.

At least 3 people were killed, and more than 100 were rushed to the hospital.

NTSB investigators are now tasked with solving one important question - what caused the train to derail?

"Something went terribly wrong here. Whether it be the training process, whether it be in the equipment, whether it be in the track," said John Hiatt, a former train engineer. For the last 25 years, Hiatt has worked as an accident investigator.

"The first thing you do is recover the event recorder - or the 'black box' as it's known," he said.

That box records everything - from the position of the engineer's controls, to the speed of the train each second it's moving.

The Associated Press reported the train was going more than 80 mph about a quarter-mile before the curve.

"The track speed coming down prior to that curve is 79 mph. The track speed at that curve is 30 mph," Hiatt said.

Right now, he can only speculate what caused this train to fly off the tracks. But Hiatt does know what may have prevented it from happening.

"They did not have positive train control in place - that's a major concern," Hiatt said.

Positive Train Control is a backup safety net - a computer based system utilizing satellites to prevent collisions and derailments.

"If we go by a certain spot too fast, it will alert us. If we don't respond by applying the brakes, it will shut the train down," Hiatt said.

According to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, the technology was not being used where the train crashed. The Federal Railroad Administration says less than 25 percent of passenger railroads are equipped with PTC - the main factor is money.

"They invite you to ride on their tracks on their trains, so they should be obligated to give every safety precaution that they can - and in this instance, they didn't, and so somebody has to answer for that," Hiatt said.