When Donnell Linton boarded Amtrak Cascades 501, all he could think about was getting himself and his son to Oregon to go see his new grandchild. Instead, both he and his son would wind up ejected from the train during a derailment that killed three and injured dozens. The subsequent investigation into the incident would yield a host of troubling facts about Amtrak and the way it had developed its new route.
The 501 derailment was the first time the Point Defiance Bypass route had been run with passengers. What was supposed to be a deceleration of the train before entering a sweeping turn was instead an overspeed turn that led to the train jumping its tracks and flying off of an overpass onto a highway below. Without a safety system known as positive train control, the locomotive was completely dependent on its engineer to slow the train to under 30 miles per hour before attempting to negotiate the turn. Instead, that engineer – having barely been trained on the new route or the nuances of the equipment he was now in charge of operating – missed the speed limit signs and entered the turn at approximately 80 miles per hour.
By all accounts, Donnell Linton saved his son’s life when he grabbed him, wrapped him up in a tight hug, and held him as they flew out of the train and onto the lanes of the highway below the overpass. Linton would be hospitalized with facial fractures as well as a broken shoulder and several broken ribs. His son survived with various facial fractures.
The 501 derailment has resulted in numerous lawsuits being filed against Amtrak for what victims of the derailment call the railway operator’s negligence in the training of the train’s crew as well as the lack of proper safety equipment on the train itself, including positive train control systems.
While Amtrak declined to comment for the Tacoma News Tribune’s reporting on the Linton verdict and other lawsuits associated with the incident, Linton’s attorney had strong words for the organization. “I know that Amtrak has spent more time trying to fight these cases than they have trying to fix their problems,” he said. “Hopefully this verdict will help encourage positive changes.”