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NTSB releases accounts from Amtrak 501 crew

DUPONT, Wash. - Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have interviewed the engineer and the conductor who were controlling Amtrak train 501 when it derailed on December 18th near Dupont, Washington, killing three people.

According to the report released Thursday, the 55-year-old engineer was hired as a conductor in 2004, and had been promoted to locomotive engineer in 2014.

He had been qualified on the Point Defiance Bypass section of the track by completing 7-10 observational trips, as well as three trips where he operated the equipment. 

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.

He told investigators the train was traveling at 79 mph approaching the curve.

He says he was aware that the curve and the 30 mph speed reduction were coming up at milepost 19.8 on the track, and he had planned to initiate braking about one mile prior to the curve.

However, he says he does not recall seeing milepost 18, or the 30 mph speed sign that is posted two miles ahead of the curve.

The engineer says he applied the brakes as soon as he saw a 30 mph at the beginning of the curve. Seconds later, the train derailed.

The conductor of the train was a 48-year-old male, hired by Amtrak in 2010 as an assistant conductor and promoted to conductor in 2011. The conductor and the engineer had never worked together before. 

He also reports feeling rested and alert at the start of his shift that day, and confirmed the engineer appeared the same. 

The conductor remembers hearing the engineer say or mumble something just before the derailment. When he looked up, the train was 'becoming airborne,' according to the report.

The accounts of the incident by the engineer and the conductor are just two sources of information that will be considered in the investigation. 

In the coming weeks, investigators will compare these accounts with video taken from inward- and outward-facing cameras, the train's data recorder, and other sources. 

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

Find the full report here.


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