Amtrak passenger train 501 derailed while crossing a bridge traversing Interstate 5, while traveling from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. It was the inaugural passenger trip on the newly renovated Nisqually-Tacoma bypass route. The Amtrak Cascades train was traveling 78 miles an hour. The speed limit at the sharp curve where the derailment occurred is 30 miles an hour.
The engineer responsible for Amtrak 501 did not observe the posted speed limit signage along the track leading up to the curve at milepost 19.86, according to the lawsuit. Because the Positive Train Control (PTC) system for Amtrak 501 was not operational, the engineer was not warned to decrease speed and the system did not automatically brake the train.
"I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I'M GOING TO GO FROM HERE"
Hagens Berman represented a former Air Force military police officer who, on Dec. 18, 2017, was traveling along Interstate 5 coming from SeaTac airport where she had just dropped off her sister. As the Amtrak train derailed on the train overpass above Interstate 5, one of the cars landed partially on top of her vehicle, falling directly into her lane of traffic.
The young officer was extracted from the vehicle and transported to Allenmore hospital where she was diagnosed with multiple fractures of her spine and foot, as well as countless abrasions to her face, torso and legs. She also suffered a traumatic nasal fracture resulting in a deviation of her septum. She was emergency transported to St. Joseph's Hospital Trauma Center where she underwent surgery on her spine. Doctors were worried she would never walk again.
She then underwent months of physical therapy and subsequent surgery. She was bedridden for six months, and was only able to walk again nine months after the crash.
Due to her injuries, she was prevented from training with her unit, according to the lawsuit. In addition, because of the extensive surgical hardware in her spine and the weight bearing limitations imposed by her physicians, she was not permitted to wear a bulletproof vest—required equipment for military police officers. Because of these limitations, she was medically discharged from the United States Air Force due to her inability to physically perform her duties and forced to give up her long-held dream of serving her country and eventually becoming a civilian police officer.
PTC SYSTEM ERROR
PTC systems are designed to increase the safety of trains by decreasing the likelihood of derailments caused by excessive speeds. PTC also provides real-time information to train crews about, among other things, the areas in which a train’s speed should be decreased or when areas of track governed by speed limits are approaching. PTC systems also provide train crews with warnings regarding the safe braking distances on curved or reduced-speed stretches of track and display the information on screens within the locomotive’s cab.
In the event that a train engineer does not respond to the various warnings provided, the PTC system is designed to automatically brake the train in order to prevent dangerous events, such as derailments, from occurring.
While Amtrak 501 was equipped with a PTC system, it was inexplicably – and inexcusably – inoperable as the train began its journey to Portland on Dec. 18, 2017, according to the lawsuit.
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