An Amtrak electrician says the company sidestepped his safety concerns on the day of the deadly DuPont train derailment.
“They were more primarily concerned about getting it out on time for the inaugural run, then looking at the safety aspect of it,” said Michael McClure, who was working as an electrician for Amtrak in the Seattle railyard on December 18, 2017.
“We had a mechanical failure prior to departure,” McClure said on Thursday, recounting the day publicly for the first time.
McClure says he alerted his superiors, but “we weren’t allowed any time to progress on the troubleshooting” and the train took off on its inaugural ride as scheduled. It came off the tracks near DuPont, killing three people and injuring dozens more.
McClure filed a formal federal whistleblower complaint Thursday alleging the company has an “ongoing pattern and practice of violating the Federal Railroad Safety Act” and immediately after the fatal crash a Quality Assurance Inspector told him to “shut your f***ing mouth."
McClure says the electrical issue affected the braking system, but it is not clear if that played any role in the crash. However, he also says he does not believe employees or engineers were given proper training on how to navigate the new turn in the tracks at the spot south of Lakewood.
“When I see what I know, and what I just heard from Mike, there is a systemic problem here,” said Mike Elliott, who was an engineer for Burlington Northern Sante Fe.
He says he was fired for raising concerns about safety and dozens of track signals. It led to a federal court fight and a recent $1.8 million reward for his suffering.
“I put a lot on the line for this--- cost me my job, cost me my marriage, it cost me my career - all the things that were lost in this thing,” said Elliott.
“The entire safety culture of the railroad industry needs to be examined,” said Elliott, who believes the state should implement more oversight of the railroad industry. “It doesn't motivate people to come forward to say something is wrong.”
BNSF Spokesman Gus Melonas would not comment on the Elliott case or his claims, other than to say he was fired for “unrelated safety issues."
“This is an untold story,” says attorney Jim Vucinovich, who is representing both men. “These whistleblowers are brave enough to come forward and try and change the culture.”
It is not clear if the electrical issue, as alleged, played any part in the crash. NTSB hearings in Washington, D.C., over the last couple of days took issue with Amtrak’s failure to identify the threat of the curve and the lack of training. McClure says he does not believe his colleagues were given the proper time to practice the run either.
“Everything felt rushed,” he said, adding. “Safety doesn't seem to be primary in their thoughts. It's about making the money and getting trains out on time.”
Amtrak released a statement to KING5 on Friday Morning:
"Amtrak is a party to an active investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Therefore, we are prohibited from commenting on any element of it. So, while we cannot speak to this investigation, Amtrak policy is all employees are empowered to stop an operation at any time to prevent a potential safety issue."