A Message from Mike Bergman, Chapter President

By now, you’ve probably heard about the horrific wreck of Amtrak Train #501 that took place at approximately 7:40 A.M. Monday, Dec. 18th on the rebuilt Point Defiance bypass near DuPont. As of this writing, three fatalities have been reported, and all of the train’s passengers were injured. Among the fatalities was Jim Hamre, a Tacoma Chapter member and passionate passenger rail advocate. Former chapter president Ed Berntsen was badly injured, as was Gary Emmons, a long-time friend of the chapter. Clearly, it was one of the worst passenger train accidents in recent Northwest history, and the disaster has profoundly impacted many of us in the railroad community.

Adding to the tragedy is the fact that this was the first southbound train on the first day of service on the rebuilt line. The accident followed months of test runs, crew training and painstaking safety reviews of the signals, switches and other infrastructure along the Point Defiance bypass.

Details of what caused the accident are still sketchy, and in the lack of information, the media is drawing on current and former railroad employees to speculate on what might have happened. At this point, this much is definitely known: The train derailed on the bridge crossing Interstate 5 just south of DuPont, with the new Siemens “Charger” locomotive landing on its side in the southbound freeway lanes. One Talgo car was left tangling precariously from the bridge, and only the trailing locomotive and transition car stayed on the rails. Just prior to the bridge is a sharp curve with a 30 MPH speed limit, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has stated that the train was travelling approximately 80 MPH as it approached the curve

Within three hours of the disaster, the NTSB assembled a team of 20 specialists to investigate what happened. These are very competent people who are experts in each of the areas that may have contributed to the accident, including equipment failure, track defects, and human error. The NTSB follows a very thorough, methodic process in its investigations undeterred by outside pressure to immediately assign blame.

Like many others, I was very shocked and surprised by news of the disaster. I have a personal link to the Point Defiance project in that I worked on the joint Amtrak-Sound Transit corridor schedules prior to my retirement from Sound Transit in January 2016. I was impressed by the quality of the operations and engineering staff that WSDOT had assembled for this task, and they always put safety first.

As horrific as this wreck was, you should remind your family and friends that train accidents of this severity are rare, and that rail remains one of the safest forms of passenger transportation. I hope you will carry this message forward as Amtrak, WSDOT and other stakeholders work to restore service on the Cascades corridor.

I visited Ed and Gary at the hospital yesterday. Ed has at least 17 bone fractures, and Gary received multiple lacerations on his face and legs. It will be a long and tedious process of recovery. But both of them were in good spirits and looking forward to future activities. They would love to hear from you via e-mail. Ed’s address is emb@railmove.com, and Gary’s address is garyemmons46@msn.com





Our meetings are held the first Saturday of each month at 11:00 AM at the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive located at 425 SW 153rd Avenue in Burien, WA. You can call 503-710-4467 if you need details 

We have books for sale and have added the file to the news and events page. The prices are listed on the line of each book and do not include shipping. If you find 3 of the $10.00 books we will  package them for $25.00. We will be glad to mail them to you or meet you to deliver them. We do accept credit card using the Square. Sales tax will be added to all non-cash sales for Washington State residents.

Our Foss Waterway Seaport project is finished. Please contact Bud Thompson at 206-310-9414 if you have time to be a docent. A copy of the Foss Waterway Seaport project that the Chapter has taken on is attached on the News and Events page. The address of Foss Waterway Seaport is 705 Dock Street, Tacoma.