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Sound Transit safety chief 'removed' after Amtrak derailment review

Sound Transit's top safety officer, Salah Al-Tamimi, was "removed" after a review found the agency made preventable errors before a train derailed in 2017.

SEATTLE — A high-ranking Sound Transit safety executive was "removed" after an independent review found the agency didn’t follow safety plan procedures before a deadly Amtrak derailment in 2017.

Three people were killed and dozens were injured when a train on its first run on the new Point Defiance Bypass route derailed onto Interstate 5 near DuPont in December 2017. Though it doesn’t operate service in the area, Sound Transit owns the portion of the track where the derailment happened.

Sound Transit Chief Executive Safety and Quality Officer Salah Al-Tamimi was "removed" from his position effective immediately, according to a memo CEO Peter Rogoff sent to the Sound Transit Board of Directors on Wednesday.

Al-Tamimi can stay with Sound Transit in a junior position in a different department, but that move hasn’t been finalized yet, according to Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson.

The agency plans to restructure, creating separate divisions for safety and quality. Rogoff hopes the distinction will allow workers in the new department to “be laser-focused solely on our safety responsibilities.”

The new safety division will be headed up in the interim by Moises Gutierrez, who is currently the deputy executive director of design and engineering. Sound Transit will conduct a national search for a new permanent chief safety officer.

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Rogoff commissioned the independent review from Oregon-based L & H Consulting Firm after the National Transportation Safety Board released its report of the Amtrak derailment in May.

“That review is now complete, and the findings are sobering,” Rogoff wrote in the memo.

The consulting firm’s review found Sound Transit made several preventable errors, including failing to prepare a safety plan for the Point Defiance Bypass, not performing simulated service before passenger service began, and simply not understanding the agency’s responsibilities as the host railroad.

The independent review made 22 recommendations, which Sound Transit says it plans to fully implement.

The review also acknowledged some of the problems that contributed to the derailment stemmed from having three agencies responsible for activity on the track: The Washington State Department of Transportation funds capital improvements and contracts for service, Amtrak operates service, and Sound Transit is responsible for ensuring safety of operators on the track.

 “Despite this extremely unique framework, it was Sound Transit's responsibility as the host railroad to identify, execute, and enforce certain discrete safety-related functions,” Rogoff wrote.

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Sound Transit purchased the segment of track from Tacoma to the Thurston County in 2005 so it could extend Sounder commuter rail from Tacoma to Lakewood.

Rogoff is expected to address the issue during the agency’s Rider Experience and Operations Committee meeting Thursday.