Cantwell Presses Amtrak CEO on Rail Safety, Positive Train Control

Senator Cantwell called for the hearing after the fatal Amtrak derailment in DuPont, WA, in December 2017

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing about the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems and Amtrak’s safety culture more broadly.

The hearing comes in the wake of a number of high-profile rail safety failures around the country, including the fatal derailment of the Amtrak Cascades Train 501 in DuPont, Washington, last December. After that incident, Senator Cantwell called for a hearing to examine a range of rail safety concerns.

In her questions today, Cantwell raised the DuPont derailment and asked Anderson about Amtrak’s safety plans moving forward.

“Clearly the discussion of Positive Train Control implementation has become an all-too-live debate in the state of Washington, with the horrific crash that killed three people and injured 80,” Senator Cantwell said. “The issue is that we need to make sure the traveling public is safe, and that both situational awareness and the best available technologies are implemented.”

In response to Cantwell’s questioning, Anderson articulated the importance of PTC and committed Amtrak to full implementation of PTC systems.

“We need to go further than the PTC regulation and establish a standard of 100 percent. If you are a passenger and you get on a train in America, you need to be PTC-compliant or PTC-equivalent,” Anderson said. “I just don’t think there is any other way to deal with the risk of single-human error.”

Anderson also apologized to Washington state and the families impacted by the DuPont derailment.

“We are deeply sorry to the communities in Washington. We have admitted all liabilities, and we are generously settling those claims and covering all the costs for the state of Washington."

In her role as a senior Democrat on the Commerce Committee, Senator Cantwell has been a consistent advocate for increasing accountability and investment in rail safety in the United States. In July of 2015, as the Senate considered the DRIVE Act, Senator Cantwell expressed concern that the bill would delay PTC implementation and roll back safety protections. In December of 2017, Cantwell joined her Senate colleagues from the Pacific Northwest to demand railroads be held accountable for PTC implementation, and earlier this year, Cantwell led members of the Washington Congressional delegation in calling for a comprehensive update from the Federal Railroad Administration on the nationwide implementation of PTC.

A full transcript of Cantwell’s questioning can be found HERE. TV-Quality video is available HERE, and a YouTube video is available HERE.