Lakewood City Council: Keep your Amtrak trains out of our town until safety fixes made

The Lakewood City Council is demanding that a slew of safety measures be implemented before Amtrak trains are allowed to once again travel through the city.

The council voted unanimously on June 3 to oppose Amtrak using tracks that cut through the city as part of the Point Defiance Bypass route until safety proposals suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board are met.

The board made the 26 recommendations as part of a report issued last month into the causes of a fatal derailment near DuPont on Dec. 18, 2017.

“We are still concerned with all the same issues, and we think every one of the safety issues should be met before they put that thing back on,” Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told The News Tribune on Monday.

Amtrak has yet to respond to The News Tribune’s request for comment. Lakewood city manager John Caulfield said Amtrak told him they “would be in touch,” but the passenger rail carrier has yet to address the city’s demands.

Lakewood’s demands likely will not affect restarting the route.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s findings are only recommendations not requirements, said Janet Matkin, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Transportation.

Those recommendations included providing more hands-on training to familiarize engineers with the route, educating crew members to assist in the cab and enhancing signs at key locations, like curves.

An Amtrak train heading south on the first run along the new Point Defiance Bypass route derailed when the train couldn’t maneuver a curve at nearly 80 mph, the NTSB said on May 21.

Rail cars veered off the tracks, killing three and injuring 65. The derailment also caused damage estimated at $25.8 million.

The investigation revealed the engineer had only traversed the Point Defiance Bypass three times — twice northbound and once heading south — before the crash.

There is no planned date to restart the bypass route, a portion of which passes through Lakewood, because officials still are evaluating the NTSB report.

Lakewood has resisted Amtrak’s use of the tracks through its city from the beginning of the bypass project, which sends passenger trains from Portland to Seattle through Lakewood instead of traveling up the coast line. The bypass is estimated to shave 10 minutes off the trip. The tracks cross the city at least seven times, cutting across residential areas, near schools and a hospital.

“It was a dumb idea that was badly considered,” Mayor Anderson told The News Tribune on Monday.

In 2013, the city of Lakewood sued WSDOT to halt the project over safety concerns, but Pierce County Superior Court Judge Katherine M. Stolz ruled the rail tracks had predated the city — and the state — and weren’t subject to city regulation.

Anderson said three weeks before the fatal crash that WSDOT needed more safety measures, or, “When somebody’s killed, I want somebody from WSDOT Rail back here telling me why they didn’t put in the safety enhancements.”

Lakewood officials also propose an Amtrak station within the city. That would reduce a train’s speed and offer residents a benefit, they said. The city manager said the state Legislature needs to approve funding for a study first.

“There is a need and a demand for that, rather than have them careen through our community, why don’t they stop and pick them up?” Caulfield said.

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