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He leaped from a bridge to avoid a derailing train. Now he’s suing

Amtrak derailment prompts a broad emergency response, road closures in the area

An Amtrak train carrying 267 passengers derailed Sunday in Steilacoom near Chambers Bay on Sunday, prompting a broad emergency response, road closures in the area and a slow evacuation.
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An Amtrak train carrying 267 passengers derailed Sunday in Steilacoom near Chambers Bay on Sunday, prompting a broad emergency response, road closures in the area and a slow evacuation.

The operator who leaped from a Chambers Bay drawbridge last month to avoid being hit by a derailing train has sued.

Travis Smith says negligence on the part of Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, his employer, forced him to jump from the railway bridge between Steilacoom and University Place.

He argues Amtrak 506 was going too fast July 2 as it carried 267 passengers on BNSF tracks and headed for the drawbridge. The railroad’s safety mechanism for the situation — a device in place that derails the train — put him in peril, according to the complaint.

“Where it derailed, it was coming right at him,” said one of Smith’s attorneys, George Thornton.

Thornton said the 31-year-old Moses Lake man is on medical leave following the jump. The lawsuit says Smith suffered back injuries, other internal injuries and psychological injuries.

Regional BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas declined to comment on the suit. Amtrak did not return a News Tribune call.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages and gives this account of what happened:

Smith was operating the Chambers Bay drawbridge, which crosses Chambers Creek near a marina.

A signal ahead of the bridge tells trains when they need to stop, but the train heading from Eugene, Oregon, to Vancouver, British Columbia, was going too fast to halt in time.

The device that derailed the train was “in such close proximity to the bridge control point that anyone working at or near the control point would be in the zone of danger from a derailing train,” the suit contends.

Which meant Smith had to leap from the bridge to get out of the way.

“Plaintiff, acting under emergency conditions, reasonably jumped off the bridge to ground approximately fifteen to twenty feet below and then went into the adjoining water to try to escape the zone of danger,” the complaint reads.

He suffered back injuries, other internal injuries and psychological injuries, the suit says.

Amtrak said after the derailment that some of the passengers suffered minor injuries, and that the train’s engineer was suspended.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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