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Automatic Braking Tech To Be Operational Before Trains Resume Derailment Route


Washington state's Department of Transportation has unilaterally decided on a pre-condition before passenger trains resume service on the Point Defiance Bypass. That's where Monday's deadly derailment happened.

Washington's Secretary of Transportation told local officials on a briefing call Thursday that WSDOT will require "positive train control" be operational before resumption of Amtrak Cascades service on the tracks parallel to Interstate 5.

"It's important to note, this is not a comment on the safety of those tracks,” WSDOT spokeswoman Barbara LaBoe said. “We have no reason to believe those tracks are anything but safe. This is a decision based on sensitivity both to the people involved in Monday's tragic events and our ongoing passengers."

For the time being, LaBoe said the six daily departures between Seattle and Portland will use the old, slower routing next to Puget Sound. The desired automatic braking technology is already in the process of being installed on the old and new, but hasn’t been activated on either yet.

LaBoe had no time estimate for when that will happen.

There is a nationwide deadline for PTC activation of December 31, 2018. Some rail experts believe the safety system could've prevented Monday's train wreck, which killed three passengers and injured scores more.

WSDOT and ODOT co-own the Amtrak Cascades service and contract with Amtrak to operate it. Sound Transit owns the stretch of tracks on the bypass route between Tacoma and DuPont.

WSDOT Communications Director Lars Erickson said his agency got no pushback from its partners regarding the decision to insist on positive train control before resuming service on the Point Defiance Bypass.

The more direct routing on a rail line recently refurbished and upgraded with tens of millions of dollars in federal money shaves about 10 minutes off the trip between Seattle and Portland.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.