Prepared remarks of Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff on the National Transportation Safety Board Summary Report

Sound Transit Board of Directors meeting, May 23, 2019

Publish Date

As you have followed, on Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board met to adopt its findings and recommendations following its investigation of the Amtrak Cascades derailment that occurred on Dec. 18, 2017.

None of us across Sound Transit and our partner agencies will ever forget the tragic day on which three people died and numerous others were injured.

I am committed to ensuring that our agency thoroughly follows up with this matter, responding to every pertinent finding and recommendation.

There were a total of 53 findings in the NTSB report, four of which were pertinent to Sound Transit. There were also 26 recommendations, three of which were directed to Sound Transit.   

The report surfaced many things we have been aware of since the accident and have rectified. It also brought other deficiencies to light that we will get to the bottom of right away.

To that end, I will be calling in an independent third party to review our safety certification process, top to bottom, when it comes to our role as a track owner. 

I completely agree with the NTSB that we have a confusing and troubling regulatory regime here where four different agencies plus BNSF have a very convoluted distribution of roles and responsibilities.  

Sound Transit does an excellent job when it comes to the safety certification process for services that we run for our own passengers, whether it is light rail or commuter rail.

In this instance, we own a ten-mile segment of track where we operate no service. We do not intend to ever operate service in the stretch where the incident occurred.

Even so, it was our responsibility to not only determine safety protocols but to oversee that Amtrak implemented all of them.

That clearly didn't happen when it comes to whether Amtrak included curve safety protocols in the general orders to its crews, or verifying the level of training Amtrak provided to its train crews.

We assumed Amtrak would fully and adequately implement safety systems. That mistake won't happen again. I will personally see to it that every protocol and requirement is fully implemented by Amtrak before service is allowed back on our territory.

There were other deficiencies on our part where we didn't do a complete job, but where we took actions prior to the conclusion of the NTSB investigation. 

We should have implemented a crew focus zone for the curve. Sound Transit's timetable now requires an inter-crew communication protocol approaching the curve. This requires verbal communications between the train's operator and conductor about speed restrictions.

We also should have implemented graduated speed restrictions earlier. Now, the revised speed limits approaching the curve go from 79 mph to 50 mph to 30 mph, with more signage.

These changes are responsive to the NTSB finding that Sound Transit as track owner should have required greater mitigation measures for the curve where the derailment occurred.

Going forward, I agree with the NTSB that the Federal Railroad Administration needs to finally issue its comprehensive system safety rule.

As the NTSB stated, “The FRA's current requirement to review, but not approve, system safety program plans does not achieve the level of safety oversight expected from the Federal Railroad Administration.”

With Sounder commuter rail, the core safety improvement that has arrived since this derailment is the implementation of PTC. We were ahead of many railroads in our industry and implemented PTC in advance of last year's federal deadline.

PTC will dramatically improve the safety of the public, and we share the NTSB's longtime support for the system that came to fruition for us and other systems last year.

We are grateful for the thoroughness of the NTSB's investigation, and I again want to emphasize my commitment to ensuring we promptly respond to all of the identified issues and ensure review of our safety certification processes. 

I will of course keep the Board fully informed on the progress of the independent review of this matter.