An Amtrak train derailed at 7:40 am in DuPont, Washington this morning while en-route to Seattle. The derailment occurred when thirteen of the train's carriages jumped the tracks. The 132-tonne train fell into the southbound lanes of I5 during rush-hour traffic.
A official told the public earlier that at least three people on board the train had died in the crash. More than 100 had been transported to local hospitals with several in serious or critical condition. In total, there were 77 passengers on the train and an additional seven crew members present.
The train was the first one to use a new high-speed route, which had been previously used by only freight and military transport trains. It had gone through numerous safety tests before opening for use by passenger trains.
Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, had used $180 in federal funding to purchase a 14.5 mile stretch of track to upgrade it for passenger use. The area of track curved slightly before leading to an overpass to cross the highway. This new track would let passenger trains bypass an area of track used by freight trains, leading to decreased travel times.
The service is owned by the states of Washington and Oregon and operated by Amtrak, but the bypass track is owned by Sound Transit and dispatched by freight company BSNF. (You can see how things might be confusing). Federal law requires all railroads, by the end of 2018, to have positive train control installed, which slows trains down automatically if they're speeding. The stretch of track that the train was travelling on had the technology installed, but for some reason it had been turned off. Had it been in operation, it's a possibility that the derailment could have been prevented.
The National Transportation Safety Board will be sending a team to investigate the incident, as the cause is not currently clear. Previously the tracks had gone through "weeks of inspection and testing," the Washington State Department of Transportation said.
President Donald Trump took the time to promote his infrastructure plan and remind people of the need for more spending.
Just two weeks ago Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson gave a warning about the dangers of the new train service. "Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements," he said on Dec. 4. “Or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens.” The warning from the mayor followed legal efforts by the city to halt the train from passing through the community because they thought there weren't enough protections installed on the overpasses the train would be travelling on.
Governor Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency in response to the accident.
Train service south of Seattle has been temporarily suspended, but service north of the city is still running. The highway remains closed and will likely until at least Tuesday when an investigation can begin.
In response to the accident, Alaska Airlines announced it would be reducing the price of flight tickets between Portland and Seattle. A ticket originally cost $214, but the airline had reduced the price to $99.
UPDATE on Dec. 19, 2017: The train that derailed off an overpass near Seattle was going 50 mph over the speed limit of 30 mph, the Chicago Tribune reports. The limit was posted on multiple signs leading up to the curve in the track.