DUPONT, Wash. — At least six people were killed Monday morning and dozens more were injured when an Amtrak train derailed south of Tacoma, leaving rail cars dangling above Interstate 5.
Four hospitals say at least 50 people were taken to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, but didn’t immediately report all of their conditions. More than a dozen had critical or serious injuries, authorities said.
The train derailed about 40 miles south of Seattle before 8 a.m. Monday, above a busy stretch of I-5 between Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Olympia.
All but one of the 14 rail cars came off the tracks, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova. The train fell from the overpass onto five cars and two semi trucks below on I-5. Nobody in those vehicles died.
Southbound I-5 will remain closed all day at Mounts Road, authorities said.
A U.S. official who was briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press preliminary signs indicate the Amtrak train may have struck something before going off the tracks. An Amtrak train also derailed in nearby Steilacoom in July
A frantic call for help
Emergency radio transmissions between the train and the dispatcher were frantic and dramatic:
Dispatcher: Hey guys, what happened?
AMTRAK 501: Uh, we were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north into Nisqually and we went on the ground.
Dispatcher: …Is everybody OK?
AMTRAK 501: I’m still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.
A new route
Transitdocs.com, a website that maps Amtrak train locations and speeds using data from the railroad’s train tracker app, says Train 501 was going 81.1 mph moments before the derailment Monday.
The state Department of Transportation posted information about the $180.7 million project online that says the maximum speed along that stretch of track is 79 mph.
Board member Bella Dinn-Zarr told reporters in Washington, D.C., that it’s too early to tell whether speed contributed to the accident.
The new route was designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that’s bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.
The mayor of Lakewood, Washington, a city along the route, predicted a deadly crash. But Don Anderson thought it’d involve a fast-moving train hitting a car or pedestrian at a crossing.
Images and video from the scene showed an Amtrak train car hanging partway off an overpass bridge and resting on the highway.
The train was carrying passengers – including many transportation officials – set to embark on the first run of Amtrak’s new route 501 from Seattle to Portland. There were 78 passengers and five crew members aboard.
‘Cars … are hanging over the overpass’
Chris Karnes, the chair of Pierce Transit’s advisory board, was on board the train and said on Twitter, “people are hurt.”
“I’m not sure what got hit. I’m not sure what happened,” Karnes said.
Karnes said he was positioned near the medical tents set up in the median between north- and southbound I-5, just south of DuPont.
“The only car that is on the tracks is the rear locomotive. There are several cars that are hanging over the overpass,” Karnes said.
Casey Bever lives near the crash, and drove past it Monday morning.
“It was the most emergency vehicles I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bever said on Q13 News This Morning. “Forty to 50 (emergency) cars going by in a two-to-three-minute span.”
Wendy Simmons said she arrived shortly after the derailment as people were helping the injured.
“First responders actually climbed up into the dangling cars to get people out,” Simmons said. “People were pulling first aid kits out of their cars — putting jackets on people.”
Amtrak released the following statement just before 9:00 a.m.:
“Amtrak is aware of an incident with Train 501, Cascades service from Seattle to Portland. Emergency services are on the scene and Amtrak management is responding. Some injuries are reported.
“Amtrak service south of Seattle is temporarily suspended. Service from Seattle to points north and east is continuing to operate.”
Search for loved ones
Amtrak set up a hotline for loved ones to call for more information: 800-523-9101.
Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova said a family reunification center had been set up at DuPont City Hall. Bova advised families NOT to go to the scene.
Facebook also set up a crisis response page for those in Western Washington to mark themselves safe. You can check it here.
Officials respond to ‘tragic’ crash
President Donald Trump had been briefed on the situation, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.
“Today’s tragic incident in Pierce County is a serious and ongoing emergency,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Trudi and I are holding in our hearts everyone on board, and are praying for the many injured. They are our top priority, and I know first responders are doing everything to ensure everyone has the care they need.”
Other Washington state politicians said they were heartbroken to hear the news.
“Following the derailment near Olympia closely,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell. “Praying for everyone on board and affected by this. Thanks to our first responders.”
“Heartbroken by the news coming out of WA right now,” tweeted Sen. Patty Murray. “As my staff works to get more info, my thoughts are w/ everyone affected, including the 1st responders doing their best to keep people safe.”
The USDOT Federal Railroad Administration said it was working with Amtrak and WSDOT, and that the agency had investigators headed to the scene. (Click to Source)