Most of the wreckage of the Dec. 18 Amtrak train crash in DuPont was removed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord April 3 to Saturday, with no significant environmental impact, according to Greg Mason, environmental investigator for JBLM’s Directorate of Public Works.
In addition to being first on the scene and aiding in emergency response, JBLM offered its facilities for storage of the wreckage for the last four months. The 12 cars and locomotive had been stored in a secure, gated location on Lewis North for Amtrak and National Transportation Safety Board investigators.
While the train car wreckage was removed, the locomotive remains at the JBLM site and will be moved in the future. Mason praised the cooperation and diligence of Amtrak and its environmental crews with the National Response Center.
“They are doing all the mitigation on site,” Mason said, pointing to Amtrak’s response crew emptying freon from air conditioning units on the train cars before shrink wrapping and tarping each car so no loose cushions or other items could fall out during transport.
Mason said oil or gray and black water was picked up immediately by NRC, so there was little chance of contamination of soil on JBLM during the four months of train storage.
“It’s been a great response and everyone has worked together,” he said.
The horrific crash occurred when Amtrak Cascades Train No. 501 plunged off an embankment onto Interstate 5 in the approach to a curve Dec. 18 at 7:33 a.m., while traveling at nearly 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The 12- to- 24-month investigation into the cause of that crash is ongoing, according to NTSB officials. The incident killed three and injured more than 60 of the 77 passengers and five crew members aboard the train.
“We look at maintenance, mechanical and human factors and release factual reports and explain to the board about halfway into the investigation,” said Peter Knudson, NTSB spokesman, adding that thousands of documents are involved in the in-depth investigation.
Taking the wreckage off base was due to Mason’s concerns after observing oil from cars on I-5 after a recent rainfall. When Mason voiced his concerns to Amtrak, he said he received a prompt response and joint effort to move the train off the base.
“If that happens with cars, I was concerned what could happen with the train cars,” he said.
Mason and other Directorate of Public Works officials were on site “to assist in approving a route for removal of the damaged train and debris, as it is so heavy it is a threat to underlying water lines and to make sure there is no impact of fuels or gray water to the ground,” said Cathy Hamilton-Wismer, a representative of DPW.
Each train car weighs about 40,000 pounds, according to Mike McDonald, vice president of Ness Campbell Crane, the company that moved the wrecked train cars.
In his 27 years with JBLM, Mason said he’s not worked with a more cooperative organization than Amtrak.
“Working with all these companies and entities has been a great experience; there’s been no headaches and it’s made my job easier,” he said.
The wreckage was moved to local salvage yards for recycling; however, those locations are not being disclosed at this time.
“Other than off-site from JBLM, there’s nothing more to release about the disposition of the damaged rail equipment,” said Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak Government Affairs and Corporate Affairs.
Mason’s high praise for Amtrak and other involved agencies, from environmental to local law enforcement, is echoed by Magliari and other Amtrak officials toward JBLM’s cooperation in the tragedy.
Magliari said he wanted to repeat the thanks given by Richard Anderson, Amtrak president and chief executive officer, the day after the crash.
“JBLM and its personnel were of great assistance before the incident, due to your participation in preparedness exercises with WSDOT, Amtrak and others,” he said. “It was an heroic response Dec. 18, and we have appreciated the base’s help since then. The actions by JBLM personnel doubtlessly saved lives in this tragic incident and we want to continue to express our gratitude.”