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Rail bypass near Tacoma reopens four years after fatal Amtrak derailment

A Portland-bound Amtrak train derailed near Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.
Pierce County Sheriff's Department
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A Portland-bound Amtrak train derailed near Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.

Four years after an Amtrak train jumped the tracks along the Point Defiance Bypass near Tacoma, killing three people and injuring 62, service along the route is resuming.

Amtrak 501 was on its inaugural run on the newly opened bypass, which was designed to speed the trip between Portland and Seattle, when it jumped the tracks and fell into rush-hour traffic on Interstate 5. Investigators later found that the train was going far too fast when it derailed.

Service along the bypass resumes Nov. 18 with new safety measures, including “Activated Positive Train Control," a system that uses GPS to slow a train in dangerous conditions.

“Amtrak is continuously improving safety for the benefit of our customers, employees, and the communities we serve,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s president. “We are ready to safely resume service on the Bypass consistent with the steps required by our host railroad, Sound Transit, the Federal Railroad Administration and our own Safety Management System.”

The National Transportation Safety Board placed primary blame for the crash on Sound Transit for failing to require safety improvements before changing the Portland-Seattle route. More than 35 people sued Amtrak for damages connected to the derailment, and several won multi-million-dollar awards.

Eight trains – including the Amtrak Cascades and the Coast Starlight – will start using the bypass later this month. Additional trains will be added as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Operations in Tacoma will move to the new Tacoma Dome Station, near the Sounder and light rail stations on East 25th Street.
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