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Poor communication, mechanics led to derailment

By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT

News staff writer

April 8

Federal investigators announced Tuesday that tie abrasion and a lapse in communication contributed to last Sunday's Amtrak derailment near Home Valley, Wash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Cy Gura zeroed in on 18 ties, which revealed up to one and a quarter inch abrasions.

“It should have been caught,” Gura said. “This inch and a quarter is the worst he (vice president of Burlington Northern Sante Fe BNSF in this region) had ever seen.”

Gura said a quarter-inch abrasion is more typical for flawed rails.

Gura said signals of the damaged track flared up as far back as September 2004, but BNSF might have done too little to remedy the problem.

“We know that abrasion in the ties caused the rail to cant outwards and the train derailed because of that,” Gura said. “The train rolled out. We know that. Now is the why. Why did this occur? When you can address the why, you can address the cause. Is it a policy, communication, certification program, is it an oversight problem?”

The track inspector had previously received a March 28 Amtrak report and a March 30 Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train crew report, both of which indicated that specific corner of rail was rough.

But the inspector allegedly never received a March 23 Federal Railroad Administration report or a September 2004 mechanical analysis which also asserted that specific corner of track was problematic.

Instead, those reports allegedly went to the roadmaster, who, according to Gura, says he never shared the information with his track inspectors.

Now that Gura and the NTSB have discovered the rail's mechanical failure, they are investigating BNSF's man-power failure. One indicator of a systemic problem within BNSF's heirarchy of personnel is that the track inspector in question was not familiar with the fairly common track term cant, which describes the way a track will slant outward, Gura said. The embanked corner of track on Mile 58 is one of 60 miles of rail for which the track inspector is responsible.

“It didn't happen overnight,” Gura said. “That condition had been out there for 11 months.”

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