Two Amtrak crew members disciplined for Sacramento train jolt incident

An Amtrak Capitol Corridor passenger train runs through downtown Dixon.
An Amtrak Capitol Corridor passenger train runs through downtown Dixon.

Amtrak has disciplined the engineer and conductor on a Capitol Corridor train that jolted violently when it went through a track switch near Davis at nearly twice the allowed speed in December, sending passengers, baggage and coffees flying.

An Amtrak representative declined to say why the engineer failed to slow the train, but indicated that crew members initially misinformed supervisors about what had happened.

The crew initially reported that the train had gone over “rough track,” Amtrak road operations official Sean Paul said. A later inspection determined that was not the case. “Our crews are trained that if they have an incident with a rule violation that they are supposed to self-report ... they failed to do that,” Paul said.

Amtrak internal documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee through the federal Freedom of Information Act indicate the westbound Dec. 7 train from Sacramento was going 78 miles per hour when it diverted to an adjacent track – a maneuver that should have been done at 40 mph or less. Amtrak officials have declined to say why the engineer didn’t slow the train down.

Five people suffered minor injuries, according to federal documents. Riders told The Bee the train tilted so dramatically in each direction they thought it would derail.

“It was a frightening incident,” said Capitol Corridor board member Robert Raburn, who was on the train. “That car we were in was whipped first one way then the other. Passengers ... were pretty shaken up.”

The Capitol Corridor group, made up of Northern California city and county officials, manages the train system, and Amtrak crews operate the trains.

The crew members involved in the incident have been put through “extensive remedial training,” Paul told the Capitol Corridor board on Wednesday. He said Amtrak also has new rules that require crew members to communicate more frequently to make sure all are aware of where the train is along the line.

Paul’s comments were the first Amtrak has made publicly since the incident six months ago, other than a brief statement earlier acknowledging the incident. Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said the incident shook residents’ confidence in Amtrak and asked why it took so long for it to offer public comment.

“I can’t answer why it took as long as it did,” Paul said. He added that “we learned lessons from this unfortunate incident. We are a stronger and safer company because of it.”

The federal government has mandated that Amtrak and large freight railroad companies install a computer-based system called Positive Train Control by the end of 2018. Paul said that PTC system would probably have taken over and stopped the December train when the engineer failed to slow for the track switch.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak