The engineer of the Amtrak Cascades train missed seeing a speed-limit sign before the train derailed from an overpass in Washington state last month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced yesterday.
An Amtrak train derailed and fell off of a bridge and onto Interstate 5 near Mounts Road between Lakewood and Olympia Washington Monday December 19, 2017.
The engineer did say he saw the signal at milepost 19.8 but mistook it for a different signal north of the curve.
"The engineer said that he saw mileposts 16 and 17 but didn't recall seeing milepost 18 or the 30 mph advance speed sign, which was posted two miles ahead of the speed-restricted curve", the safety agency said.
Investigators have said the train was traveling 79 miles per hour as it approached a curve above Interstate 5 where the speed limit was 30 miles per hour. Amtrak train 501 careened off an overpass on December 18 after approaching a 30 miles per hour curve at a speed of 80 miles per hour.
On the topic of training, the unnamed locomotive engineer said he would not have gotten behind the throttle if he had any reservations about his readiness to operate the train on the new, higher speed routing alongside I-5.
The engineer had experience on the Point Defiance Bypass section where the derailment occurred.
The fatal trip marked the second time the engineer had officially operated it going southbound on the route. The conductor and the engineer had never worked together before. Both said they felt well-rested.
NTSB investigators interviewed the train's engineer and a conductor the week of January 15, about a month after the fatal derailment killed three passengers and injured dozens of others.
The 48-year-old conductor told investigators that he spent most of the trip looking at his paperwork to familiarize himself with the territory. Just before the derailment, the conductor looked up from copies of track bulletins when he heard the engineer mumble something and sensed the train was becoming "airborne", investigators said.
The conductor who was also in the locomotive at the time of the derailment has been with Amtrak since 2010 and was promoted to his current post in 2011.
NTSB officials said they are continuing to interview more people about the derailment, adding that they are also reviewing video and data recorder information from the derailment.
The investigation is expected to last anywhere from 1-2 years.
The union representing the engineer, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said it could not comment on the NTSB's account of the interview because the union is a party to the ongoing investigation.