Maddie Garza was 18 years old in December 2017 when she was riding Amtrak train No. 501 between Seattle and Portland, Ore., when it derailed on a bridge at DuPont, Wash. The lead locomotive and number of cars fell off the bridge and onto Interstate 5. The car Garza was riding ended up upside down in the middle of the highway. Garza fractured her spine and broke her pelvis in the wreck.
Three people were killed and dozens were injured in the wreck.
Amtrak train No. 501 was making its inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass south of Tacoma. The route took Amtrak trains further inland, away from the slow, curvy line along Puget Sound, in an effort to speed up the trip between Seattle and Portland. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the train was traveling at 78 miles per hour when it entered a 30-mile-per-hour curve over Interstate 5. [See “National Transportation Safety Board says multiple state and federal agencies failed in 2017 Washington state crash,” Trains News Wire, May 21, 2019.]
At the time, positive train control was not in use on the line and Amtrak vowed not to resume service on the bypass until the installation was completed. While PTC is now in use on the Point Defiance Bypass, Amtrak trains still use the line along Puget Sound.
The NTSB investigation and subsequent lawsuits have called into question the training crews received prior to service starting on the Point Defiance Bypass. According to investigators and media reports, locomotive engineers on the route had few familiarization runs on the bypass and that possibly contributed to the incident. Attorneys for Garza called Amtrak’s move to begin service without properly training its crews “outrageous and reckless.”
Garza filed a lawsuit against Amtrak in early 2018 alleging the railroad was negligent in its operation of train No. 501 and had violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act. Garza is not the first victim in the 2017 wreck to be awarded a settlement by a jury. In September, a jury ordered Amtrak to pay three other passengers $17 million. [See “Jury awards millions of dollars to passengers injured in 2017 Cascades wreck,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 16, 2019.]
In a statement to the media after the verdict, Garza said, “I am so grateful for the jury’s powerful decision today. This is not just about justice for myself, but to also send a clear message to Amtrak about changing their practices. I hope that this compels Amtrak to improve safety measures on their trains so that accidents like the one I lived through don’t happen ever again.”