Amtrak derailment: Multiple deaths as passenger train falls off track onto busy Washington motorway
An Amtrak train on its first journey along a newly opened section of tracks derailed on an overpass in Washington state, killing multiple passengers and spilling over a major highway.
Deaths and injuries were reported after the train derailed on a bridge overlooking a stretch of interstate 5, a major highway, near DuPont, with 13 train cars jumping off the track. A total of 77 people were being transported to local hospitals for treatment, a spokesman for healthcare network CHI Franciscan Health said.
“When we got to the scene it was obvious that there were some fatalities and there were a lot of injuries, and some people were able to get off the train,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters.
While the sheriff’s office did not release fatality figures, the Associated Press cited an official in reporting at least six people had died.
Among the injured were motorists who had been struck by the derailed cars, none of whom were killed, Mr Troyer said.
“Multiple cars and trucks were struck by train cars that left the train tracks and went down onto the road. The people that were in the vehicles, even though when you see the pictures it’s pretty horrific, at this point nobody in any of the vehicles is a fatal. The fatals are all contained to the train,” he said.
The Washington State Department of Transportation confirmed that the train derailed on the first day that a section of tracks was in public use. In a statement, the board said the tracks were opened after “weeks of inspection and testing” of upgrades funded by the Federal Railroad Administration. The Point Defiance Overpass project cost some $181 million.
Amtrak said in a statement that approximately 78 passengers and 5 crew members were on board the train.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal entity responsible for investigating such accidents, said a “go team” of investigators was en route. In a press briefing, National Transportation Safety Board member T Bella Dinh-Zarr said “we are aware of the fact that this was called an inaugural run of this service” but said investigators were still working to confirm details.
In images shared by authorities, train cars could be seen teetering off of the tracks and curling onto the highway on one side and a forested area on the other. The transportation department noted that all southbound lanes of a major highway were blocked and urged commuters to avoid the area, warning that long delays awaited drivers even on alternate routes.
— Pierce Co Sheriff (@PierceSheriff) 18 December 2017
Washington Gov Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency, noting in his proclamation “significant structural damage to the overpass, railway and highway infrastructure” and saying the combined effects of the derailment and road closures amounted to a “public disaster”. In a separate statement he called the derailment a “serious and ongoing emergency,” saying his office was still gathering information from Amtrak.
While authorities were not yet publicly detailing a cause of the accident, Washington Rep Denny Heck told CNN that “something went very, very wrong”.
“There is some questions that we will demand to be answered,” Mr Heck said, adding that the incident went “way, way, way outside the usual bounds even of accidents”.
Lakewood, Washington mayor Don Anderson told MSNBC that plans for the newly inaugurated route had spurred worries before the derailment.
“Our community has been very concerned about the safety of this modification of the rail route for several years and were unsuccessful in either stopping it or having some modifications,” Mr Anderson said.
A few hours after the derailment occurred, Donald Trump cited the incident as why “our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly”.
“Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble!” the President said on Twitter.
The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 18 December 2017
Passenger Chris Karnes described a frantic scramble to get off the stricken train, telling KIRO 7 that people kicked out windows after discovering emergency doors weren’t functioning.
“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill,” Mr Karnes told KIRO 7. “The next thing we know, we’re being slammed into the front of our seats, windows are breaking, we stop, and there’s water gushing out of the train. People were screaming”.
The line of the Cascades is part of the key west coast long-distance rail artery, a route between Vancouver in Canada and San Diego on the Mexican border. While there are six trains a day scheduled each way between Seattle and Portland, the main users of US railroads are freight trains.
The US rail network sees far more accidents than European railways. In the UK there have been no fatal accidents in the past 10 years. In the US, there have been 10, with dozens of passengers losing their lives.