At least three people were killed and more than 100 injured when an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Washington state, DuPont Fire Chief Larry Creekmore said Monday night.
The Amtrak Cascades 501 was making its first trip on a new service route when the train ran off the track near DuPont, spilling 13 cars off an Interstate 5 overpass onto rush hour traffic below, authorities said.
All the deaths were contained to the train, said Ed Troyer, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
— Amtrak President & Co-CEO Richard Anderson said “Positive Train Control” was not activated on the tracks when the derailment happened. PTC is a technology that automatically slows down, and eventually stops, a train if it senses it is going too fast.
— Thirteen cars jumped the track. The train had 14 cars, including two engines, said Brook Bova of the Washington State Patrol.
— A passenger on the train says his car derailed and everyone “catapulted” into the seat in front of them.
— The National Transportation Safety Board sent a 20-member team to investigate.
— Photos from the scene show at least one train car on the road, with another dangling over it.
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The crash happened about 7:40 a.m. in DuPont, about 20 miles south of Tacoma, near the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently, the train came out of a curve and ran off the track while crossing or approaching an open trestle over I-5.
The following rail cars derailed in a jumble on both sides of the track, with some falling to the highway and landing on vehicles and one rail car dangling precariously over the highway.
Several motorists in vehicles that were struck by the fallen train cars suffered injuries, but there were no fatalities among people in those vehicles, the sheriff’s office said. Five cars and two semi-trucks were involved in the crash, Bova said.
The southbound train was carrying 77 passengers and seven crew members, said Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Brooke Bova at a news conference. Monday was the first day of the Amtrak Cascades 501 service between Seattle and Portland, Amtrak said.
The NTSB and local authorities have not said what caused the crash, but questions were quickly raised about the train’s speed as it hit a curve.
Most of the route was graded for a maximum speed of 79 mph; the speed limit on the curve where the crash occurred is 30 mph, said Rachelle Cunningham with Sound Transit. Cunningham said she did not know how fast the train was traveling when it derailed, and the NTSB has not released information about the speed.
Russ Quimby, a former NTSB safety investigator, and CNN analyst Mary Schiavo, former Department of Transportation inspector general, said an early look indicates speed might have been an issue.
In a conference call with reporters, Amtrak President and Co-CEO Richard Anderson said “Positive Train Control” was not activated on the tracks at the time of the derailment. Positive Train Control is a technology that automatically slows down, and eventually stops, a train if it senses the train is going too fast and could derail or get in an accident.
Anderson would not answer CNN’s questions regarding the speed of the train or the crew’s tenure at Amtrak.
The train was running on track previously used for occasional freight and military transport, the Washington Department of Transportation said in a news release. WDOT said the track had undergone millions of dollars of federally funded improvements and weeks of inspection and testing.