Monday, August 15, 2022
Aug. 15, 2022

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Settlement for former Amtrak engineer in 2017 DuPont crash

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SEATTLE — Amtrak has agreed to pay former engineer Steven Brown for his pain and suffering caused by the 2017 derailment when his train sped off a curve in DuPont, killing three people and injuring dozens.

“It was a large settlement. Steve and his family will be taken care of for his life,” said Fred Bremseth, a Minneapolis attorney whose firm handled the case. The settlement amount is undisclosed, after the agreement was filed Friday in Pierce County Superior Court.

“We think that it substantiates that it is Amtrak’s fault and not Mr. Brown’s,” Bremseth said.

The train traveled 80 mph in a 30-mph zone Dec. 18, 2017, after Brown missed a sign to slow down. However, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Amtrak played a major role in the Cascades 501 crash, while also blaming track owner Sound Transit, train owner Washington State Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

A safety board member said Brown was “set up to fail,” based on agencies’ mistakes, including inadequate practice runs and the trains’ lack of speed-control software. The crash happened on Amtrak’s first scheduled trip on a new corridor through Tacoma, Lakewood and Nisqually, which is faster than the scenic coastal route around Point Defiance.

Federal railroad law requires Amtrak to prove an employee was the sole cause of the crash or else pay compensation. Last year, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karena Kirkendoll granted Brown’s request to sue for damages. Brown, who is now 60, broke several bones in his face and torso when most of the train flew off the trestle onto Interstate 5 beneath.

With court fights over, Brown on Monday said he hopes to write a memoir or a book about his railway photography, drawing on 500,000 images around the world.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m still fighting the depression, for a number of years, but I’m really feeling a release.”

Amtrak Cascades returned to the DuPont-area trackway in November, almost four years after the crash. Its locomotives now are equipped with satellite-based positive train control that can stop a runaway train, and crew training improved under mandates co-signed by a new Sound Transit safety director.

Amtrak has no comment about the case, a spokesperson said Monday. Last year, President Stephen Gardner said improvements since 2017, including PTC, will ensure safety, despite the abrupt curvature where tracks cross I-5 between DuPont and Nisqually.

Many passengers injured in the crash have sued Amtrak, whose total payouts per crash are capped at $295 million by federal law. Among millions of dollars paid, a jury awarded a Seattle woman $6.9 million last November.

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