Federal Agency Blames Diversity, Ignores Cause of Deadly 2017 Amtrak Derailment

On December 18, 2017, in Dupont, Washington, if an Amtrak engineer had negotiated a curve at the proper speed of 30 miles per hour instead of 78 mph, the deadly derailment that claimed three lives and injured 57 would not have occurred. Two and a half years later, that wasn’t how the federal National Transportation Safety Board saw it.

As Fox News reports, “instead of blaming the engineer, the NTSB cast a wide net that included the various agencies that constructed and operated the line.” The federal board excoriated the Seattle-area Sound Transit agency for “not sufficiently mitigating the danger of the sharp bend.” Amtrak was to blame for “not better training the engineer.” The NTSB blamed the Washington State Department of Transportation for “not ensuring the route was safe before green-lighting a passenger train.” The NTSB also blamed and the Federal Railroad Administration for “using rail cars beneath regulatory standards.”

Relatives of the victims might wonder how all this was allowed to proceed without supervision from the FTSB and other state, local and federal agencies. None of the alleged lapses cancel the blame of the engineer, who hit the curve at more than twice the speed limit. So when NTSB Robert Sumwalt said the accident could have prevented, he was confirming a stranglehold on the obvious. Trouble is, if this is an “institutional problem,” as some regulators claimed, then no person is to blame. Amtrak employees are members of government employee unions, a highly protected class, so no surprise that the NTSB even fails to name the engineer.

As this case confirms, the NTSB is basically a historian of accidents and contributes little if anything to public safety. The Trump administration should mark the NTSB for deep cuts and take a hard look at Amtrak as well. In typical style, Amtrak failed to name the faulty engineer or indicate whether he had been fired or what he might be doing now. But as Amtrak said in a statement, “We remain deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries due to this tragic event.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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