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Three dead in Washington state Amtrak derailment

Images of derailed Amtrak train 501. Photo: Twitter/wspd1pio

Three people are dead after Amtrak train 501 headed to Portland, Oregon derailed early Monday morning on a bridge over the I-5 highway around 7:40 am south of Tacoma, Washington.

Washington State Police are on the scene, and southbound I-5 is closed at DuPont.

Washington governor Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency to allow for implementation of the state’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.

All 12 of the train’s passenger cars and one engine derailed. The train included 14 total cars.

The scene

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Twitter account reported preliminary information of “injuries and casualties” without specifying numbers. Several cars were struck by the derailed train and “multiple motorists injured on the roadway,” but no fatalities of motorists have been reported.

Images from the incident scene appear to show multiple train cars laying on the ground, with another hanging partially off the bridge over I-5.

Both the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have teams en-route to the incident site for further investigation.

The first emergency call from the train came from the train’s conductor at the rear of the train, according to Broadcastify: “Amtrak 501 emergency, emergency, emergency. We are on the ground. We are on the bridge over the 5…[inaudible]…on the freeway. Need EMS ASAP. Looks like they’re already starting to show up.”

The conductor was able to provide some additional basic information to the dispatcher, but when asked for a specific location of the train after having provided an estimate, he replied “As soon as I know exactly where all my train is, I’ll let you know.”

Point Defiance Bypass

The location indicates the train was taking the new Point Defiance Bypass, which routed trains south inland instead of further west near the Atlantic coast. The new bypass, designed to shave around 10 minutes off the Cascades’ trip and provide more reliable and frequent service, opened to passenger trains today, December 18.

The new tracks allow for a higher maximum allowed speed of 79 mph so that trains can move quicker.

map of point defiance bypass project area

Washington State DOT highway imagery shows that at least one car from the trail has partially fallen to the highway below.

A typical Amtrak Cascades trainset seats approximately 250 passengers and typically consists of 13 train cars, including one baggage car; two business class (first-class) coaches; seven standard coaches; one bistro (cafe) car; one lounge car; and one service car that provides onboard electricity for the train.

Cause of the incident not yet known

An unofficial Amtrak/VIA real-time train tracker website reports that the train was traveling approximately 81 miles per hour near where the derailment occurred.

The train would have been required to slow down to 30 mph in order to take the curve and cross the bridge above I-5 safely.

Positive Train Control (PTC), a technology to ensure trains aren’t going faster than they should be, was set to be enabled on this section of track “later next year.”

The cause of the incident has not yet been determined. The NTSB go team is expected to arrive on scene later on Monday.

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