An Amtrak conductor on a training run of the Cascades 501 that derailed in DuPont, Washington, Dec. 18 is one of the first people to sue the railroad as a result of the accident.
Garrick Freeman, a 48-year-old Amtrak conductor, was among the 80 people injured when the train derailed as it sped into a downward curve at more than twice the speed limit. Thirteen of the train’s cars leaped the tracks on an overpass and landed on cars and trucks on Interstate 5 below. Three people were killed.
Mr. Freeman, who was with the train’s engineer in the lead locomotive, was violently tossed about the car as it plummeted from the bridge, his lawsuit alleges, according to The Oregonian. He suffered a shattered pelvis and cracked ribs.
Mr. Freeman’s lawyer told The Oregonian that Mr. Freeman underwent pelvic reconstruction surgery and spent nearly two weeks in the hospital, after which he was transferred to a rehabilitation center where he is having to learn to walk again. It’s unclear at this time to what extent he will recover from his injuries.
According to The Oregonian, Mr. Freeman states in his lawsuit that Amtrak asked him to work on the inaugural run of the Cascades 501 train, a new higher speed route connecting Seattle and Portland.
“But Freeman told his supervisors that he was uncomfortable because he hadn’t been trained on the bypass segment of the route, so Amtrak instead had him ride in the lead locomotive with the engineer that morning, Freeman’s attorneys say,” according to The Oregonian. “He was supposed to familiarize himself with the route while another worker carried out Freeman’s conductor duties, they say.”
The newspaper went on to report, “Amtrak appears to have provided inadequate training to engineers and conductors assigned to the route by packing in at least a half-dozen of them on a nighttime training run in the lead locomotive and more of them in other parts of the train,” citing Mr. Freeman’s lawyer.
Mr. Freeman filed his lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court, the county where the derailment occurred.
According to The Oregonian, a second lawsuit connected to the Amtrak Cascades 501 crash was filed by passenger Pennie Cottrell in King County Superior Court. Ms. Cottrell was in the seventh rail car that hung suspended from the bridge after it derailed. She was recently released from the hospital but continues to suffer from symptoms indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addition to a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a neck injury, and various internal injuries.
According to The Oregonian, both lawsuits fault Amtrak for opening the new high-speed route before it installed positive train control (PTC) on the train. PTC is a GPS-aided speed regulating device that can slow trains that are errantly speeding.
Nearly 10 years ago, Congress passed a measure requiring PTC in Class 1 passenger trains and trains that haul hazardous cargo by 2015 but the requirement was pushed back to the end of 2018 with the possibility of further delays into 2020 after the railroad industry successfully lobbied against it.