Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The engineer at the helm of an Amtrak train that crashed in December and killed three people in Washington, mistook a signal on the tracks at the curve where the train derailed.
The 55-year-old engineer and the 48-year-old conductor who were in the lead locomotive at the time of the crash were seriously injured and unable to answer questions from investigators until last week.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the engineer reported he felt rested and was not distracted by the presence of the conductor, who was there to become familiar with the tracks in the territory.
In a news release, the NTSB said the engineer knew there would be a curve with a 30 mph speed limit at milepost 19.8, but he didn't remember seeing milepost 18 or the 30 mph advance speed sign.
"The engineer said that he did see the wayside signal at milepost 19.8 (at the accident curve) but mistook it for another signal, which was north of the curve," the release said.
"He said that as soon as he saw the 30 mph sign at the start of the curve, he applied brakes. Seconds later, the train derailed as it entered the curve."
The NTSB said it was considering human performance, signals, train control, the tracks and engineering in its investigation, which is expected to last one to two years.
Amtrak 501 was traveling from Seattle to Portland, Ore., on Dec. 18 when it derailed in DuPont, Wash., killing three and injuring more than 100. At least one train car crashed down onto Interstate 5 below the tracks.