Washington train travelling 80km/h over speed limit

Three dead and more than 70 taken to hospital as fire crews pulled 13 cars off track

An Amtrak passenger train derailed on its inaugural run along a faster route through Washington state, sending part of the train crashing down onto a major highway and killing a number of passengers. Video: Reuters

 

The train that careered off an overpass in Washington state, killing at least three people, was travelling 50mph (80km/h) over the speed limit when it jumped the track, say federal investigators.

Bella Dinh-Zarr, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said the data recorder in the rear locomotive showed the train was going 80mph (129km/h) in a 30mph (48km/h) zone when it derailed along a curve south of Seattle, spilling carriages on to a road below.

Ms Dinh-Zarr said it is not yet known what caused the Amtrak train to derail and too early to say why it was going so fast. She said investigators will talk to the engineer and other crew members.

In previous deadly train wrecks, investigators looked at whether the engineer was distracted or disoriented.

The engineer, whose name was not released, was bleeding from the head after the incident and both eyes were swollen shut, according to dispatch audio.

The train was making the inaugural run along a fast new bypass route created by refurbishing freight tracks alongside Interstate 5.

Train control

The $180 million (€152 million) project was aimed at speeding up services by bypassing an old route that had a number of curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.

Positive train control – technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train – was not in use on the stretch of track, according to Amtrak president Richard Anderson.

Regulators have been pressing railroads for years to install such technology, but the deadline has been extended repeatedly at the industry’s request and is now the end of 2018.

The scene after an Amtrak high-speed train derailled from an overpass near the city of Tacoma, Washington state. Photograph: Getty Images
The scene after an Amtrak high-speed train derailled from an overpass near the city of Tacoma, Washington state. Photograph: Getty Images

The incident left mangled train carriages on top of each other, with one hanging precariously over the freeway.

The screech and clang of metal was followed by silence, then screams, as the injured cried out to rescuers and motorists pulled over and rushed to help.

Train passenger Emma Shafer found herself at a 45-degree angle, staring at the seats in front of her that had come loose and swung around.

“It felt oddly silent after the actual crashing,” she said. “Then there was people screaming . . . I don’t know if I actually heard the sirens, but they were there. A guy was like, ‘hey, I’m Robert. We’ll get you out of here’.”

Aleksander Kristiansen, a 24-year-old exchange student at the University of Washington from Copenhagen, was going to Portland to visit the city for the day.

“I was just coming out of the bathroom when the accident happened. My car just started shaking really, really badly,” he said.

The back of his train car was wide open because it had separated from the rest of the train, so he and others were able to jump out to safety. He was at about the middle of the train, either the sixth or seventh car, he said, and was “one of the lucky ones”.

Dr Nathan Selden, a neurosurgeon at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said he and his son drove through the accident scene while travelling north to visit Seattle. The doctor asked if he could help and was ushered to a medical triage tent.

Completely unharmed

The most seriously injured had already been whisked away, but the patients he helped appeared to have open head wounds and skull, pelvic or leg fractures, as well as small cuts and neck sprains, he said.

He called it a miracle an infant child he saw from the scene appeared completely unharmed.

More than 70 people were injured, 10 of them seriously.

In 2015, an Amtrak train in Philadelphia was travelling at twice the 50mph (80km/h) speed limit when it ran off the rails along a sharp curve, killing eight people.

Investigators concluded the engineer was distracted by reports over the radio of another train getting hit by a rock.

In this latest incident, speed signs were posted two miles before the speed zone changed ahead of a curve leading to the overpass, according to Kimberly Reason of Sound Transit, the Seattle-area transit agency that owns the tracks.

President Donald Trump used the deadly derailment to call for more infrastructure spending in a tweet sent about three hours after the accident. He said the wreck shows “more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly”. The accident happened on a newly completed bypass.

Eric Corp, a councillor for the small city of DuPont near the derailment, said he rode the train with about 30 or so dignitaries and others on a special trip on Friday before the service opened to the public on Monday.

“Once we were coming up on that curve, the train slowed down considerably,” he said.

The train was not full on Monday. Authorities said there were 80 passengers and five crew members on board.

– (AP)