November 15, 2019

Washington Train Accidents

An Amtrak train traveling south of Seattle and carrying passengers derailed Monday December 18 and fell off an overpass, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100 near Dupont, Washington.

Some 13 rail cars were pulled off the tracks.  Two motor vehicles were crushed but no fatalities among the automobiles struck.  The three deaths were reported from among the passengers in the train. There were 77 passengers and seven crew members on board. About 12 people were said to have critical or serious injuries.

The train was making its first ever run along a new faster route between Seattle and Portland, as part of a $180.7 million project. The train was reportedly going 81.1 mph about a quarter of a mile from where it went off the tracks.

The speed is said to drop from 79 mph to 30 mph for passenger trains as they head into the curve to cross Interstate 5, which is the location where the train derailed.

According to news reports, Amtrak President Richard Anderson has acknowledged that positive train control was not in use on this part of the track.  Positive train control is technology that can slow or even stop a speeding train.

At this point, it is not certain how fast the train was traveling as it entered the curve and derailed. The new route was designed to save 10 minutes off the commute between Seattle and Portland.

The tracks are owned by Sound Transit, a Seattle based transit agency.  According to their office, the speed limit is 30 mph in that area and that speed signs are posted two miles before the speed zone and just before the curve.  The train engineer was injured but survived the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the scene. All southbound lanes of I-5 were closed south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and motorists were being warned to avoid the area.

President Donald Trump tweeted three hours after the Amtrak crash that it shows “more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly.” The accident happened on a newly completed bypass.

The Amtrak Cascades service is jointly owned by the Washington and Oregon transportation departments. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor and is responsible for day-to-day operations for runs between Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.

The schedule the day of the accident called for the train to leave Seattle around 6 a.m. and arrive in Portland about 3 1/2 hours later.