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Statement of Sound Transit Chief Safety Officer David Wright on resumption of Amtrak service on the Point Defiance Bypass

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Amtrak’s Nov. 18 resumption of its Cascades passenger service on the Point Defiance Bypass follows Amtrak and other agencies work to meet rigorous requirements imposed by Sound Transit. 

Rather than permitting service on its tracks according to any predetermined schedule, Sound Transit committed to approve resumed service only when compliance with stringently imposed safety requirements were fully met and verified. Safety measures implemented prior to testing and ultimate approval of resumed service included but were not limited to:

  • Amtrak and all passenger rail agencies in the region now utilize a powerful automated safety system called Positive Train Control (PTC). Under PTC, trains are tracked by satellite. Should an engineer exceed a permitted speed, PTC automatically applies brakes and stops the train. Sound Transit has verified the proper functioning of PTC equipment on its tracks and on Amtrak trains that will use the tracks.
  • Any train that is not under active PTC monitoring is limited to 30 mph over Sound Transit owned track — a standard which is stricter than current federal regulations.
  • Leading into the curve where the December 2017 incident occurred, Sound Transit instituted step-down speed limits (from 79 mph to 50 mph to 30 mph), with additional signage; and
  • Sound Transit instituted a “focus zone” in the railroad timetable that crews must follow when operating on the bypass. The timetable requires train crews to verbally note the speed step-down to each other. 

Sound Transit has also exercised rigorous oversight of Amtrak’s crew qualifications, which included Amtrak’s training of engineers and supervisors on a simulator of the Point Defiance Bypass territory. Engineers were required to complete six round trips on the territory and Amtrak conducted service to simulate actual operating conditions on the bypass. Additionally, Sound Transit measures included completing systems integration testing that verified operator sight lines of wayside signals and signage and re-testing the functionality of wayside signals and crossing systems.

Amtrak and the Washington State Department of Transportation has met all the requirements and conditions required by Sound Transit to enable passenger rail service to resume on the Point Defiance Bypass. 

Sound Transit addressed all applicable requirements from the National Transportation Safety Board report as well as recommendations from Sound Transit’s own third-party safety audit. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) also approved the renewal of passenger service earlier this month.