Amtrak engineer misread signal before fatal crash near Seattle, agency says

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The engineer of an Amtrak train that derailed over a bridge in Washington State in December said he missed a mile marker and a speed sign prior to the fatal crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The qualifying conductor, who was also in the lead locomotive at the time, told investigators he was looking at his paper work when he heard the engineer say something, causing him to look up as he sensed the train becoming "airborne".

The engineer, who was hired by Amtrak in 2004 as a conductor and became an engineer in 2013, said he felt rested before the shift, the NTSB said Thursday.

He says he was aware that the curve and the 30 miles per hour speed reduction were coming up at milepost 19.8 on the track, and he had planned to initiate braking about one mile prior to the curve. He applied the breaks once he saw the 30 miles per hour sign at the 19.8-mile mark, but the train derailed "seconds later".

The December crash south of Seattle left three dead when the speeding train derailed while traveling across a highway overpass.

On the topic of training, the unnamed locomotive engineer said he would not have gotten behind the throttle if he had any reservations about his readiness to operate the train on the new, higher speed routing alongside I-5. He observed the route 7 to 10 times in the five weeks before the crash and operated the locomotive on three trips, according to the report. But he did not recall seeing milepost 18 or the 30-mph advance speed sign two miles before the curve.

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The summary involved interviews with the engineer and conductor, which took place about a month after they suffered serious injuries in the wreck.

NTSB investigators interviewed the train's engineer and a conductor the week of January 15, about a month after the fatal derailment killed three passengers and injured dozens of others.

The conductor remembers hearing the engineer say or mumble something just before the derailment. He told investigators that the engineer appeared alert during a job briefing and while operating the train.

NTSB officials said they are continuing to interview more people about the derailment, adding that they are also reviewing video and data recorder information from the derailment.

The conductor of the train was a 48-year-old male, hired by Amtrak in 2010 as an assistant conductor and promoted to conductor in 2011.

The NTSB said it was considering human performance, signals, train control, the tracks and engineering in its investigation, which is expected to last one to two years.