New Amtrak train derails, killing 3

At least three people were killed (some reports put the total at six) and scores injured when an Amtrak train jumped the tracks at 7:33 AM Monday in Washington state, the New York Times reports.

The train is part of a new “high-speed” commuter rail service between Seattle and Portland. Although the overpass from which the train fell looks somewhat decrepit in the photo above, posted by a trooper who arrived on the scene, recent upgrades to the track and crossing had been made and tested over the past few weeks. This was, however, the inaugural run for this train, which cut about 10 minutes off the commute time between Seattle and Portland.

The crash occurred in the town of DuPont, Washington, at a track section known as the Point Defiance Bypass. All 12 passenger cars and one of the train’s two locomotives derailed around a curve in the tracks, but the exact cause of the derailment will be under investigation for some time to come.

An investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board was quoted as saying that a data recorder from the train’s rear locomotive showed it was traveling at 80 mph. The speed for this section of track is posted as 30 mph, the Wall Street Journal reports.

As the train fell off the overpass, several vehicles on the road below, including two semis, were crumpled. For passengers aboard the train, the situation was terrifying.

“It felt like the end of the world, and I was standing amid the wreckage,” the Times quoted a 20-year-old modern-dance student on the train as saying. She was in one of the cars sent over the edge only to dangle at a steep angle toward the road below.

The Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted that the track is owned jointly by the department and the Oregon DOT. “Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor,” the department noted, “and is responsible for day-to-day operations. Amtrak Cascades runs from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.”

Immediately after the accident, transportation officials completely closed a segment of the southbound lanes on Interstate-5. It remained closed all day, and the timing of it reopening is still uncertain, according to tweets from the WSDOT.

The train was billed as a “high-speed” train, but that is essentially a relative term. Commuter trains in Europe and Asia operate at speeds close to 200 mph, whereas the Cascades train was only set to achieve maximum speeds a few notches below the 100-mph mark.

As some members of local school communities may have been affected by the accident, Chloe Clark Elementary in DuPont posted a note to its website, saying, “Our school and district incident response teams are available as a resource for all students, parents and staff. … We are committed to the partnership with families to support the emotional well-being of our students and school community. If you or your child needs additional support, please let us help. …

“Due to heavy traffic from the closure of I-5, buses may be running late to drop off students at their bus stops. We have arranged with Tacoma Public Schools to provide additional school buses in order to minimize the number of round trips between DuPont and Steilacoom. Pioneer Middle and Steilacoom High School’s after-school activity buses will be leaving each school at their normal times.

“We are working closely with our local public safety departments to make sure students get home safely.”

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.