Overview of the NTSB Amtrak Cascades Disaster Investigation

Davis Law Group has detailed knowledge of NTSB investigations.  Our work on the Skagit River Bridge collapse case and other major accidents has given us unique legal insight into how the NTSB manages investigations. including the Amtrak train derailment that occurred on December 18, 2017.  

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was established in 1967 to conduct independent investigations of major transportation-related accidents.  The NTSB is not part of the Department of Transportation.  The NTSB has no regulatory or enforcement powers.

Every NTSB investigation has a “Go Team."  The purpose of the Go Team is  to begin the investigation of a major accident at the accident scene, as quickly as possible.  A team is typically made up of a number of specialists from the Board's headquarters staff in Washington, D.C.

  • The Investigator-in-Charge (IIC) is a senior investigator with years of NTSB and industry-related experience.  
  • Investigations typically focus on the following key areas:
  • Human Factors - Study of crew performance and all before-the-accident factors that might be involved in human error, including fatigue, medication, alcohol. Drugs, medical histories, training, workload, equipment design and work environment.
  • Operations - The history of the accident and crewmembers' duties for as many days prior to the crash as appears relevant.
  • Structures - Documentation of the train wreckage and the accident scene, including calculation of impact angles to help determine the train's pre-impact course, speed, etc.
  • Powerplants - Examination of engines and engine accessories.
  • Locomotive Systems – A study of components of the positive train control system (if applicable), hydraulic and electrical systems, and other instrumentation.   
  • Train Control / Dispatch Systems - Reconstruction of the dispatch orders given to the engineers, GPS data, etc.  Acquisition of transcripts of dispatcher-engineer radio transmissions.
  • Weather - Gathering of all pertinent weather data from the National Weather Service for a broad area around the accident scene.
  • Passenger Survival - Documentation of impact forces and injuries, evacuation, community emergency planning and all crash-fire-rescue efforts.

For more detailed information about the disaster, read AMTRAK CASCADES DERAILMENT DISASTER: A Legal Guide For Accident Victims/Survivors by the Amtrak train accident attorney team at Davis Law Group.  

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