An Amtrak passenger train was well over the speed limit when it derailed yesterday in Tacoma, Washington, killing at least three people and injuring about 100 others, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said. Amtrak service south of Seattle was temporarily suspended, the company said.
Amtrak train 501 was on its inaugural run of the new faster-speed Cascades service from Seattle to Portland. The newly established route running on refurbished tracks, called the Point Defiance Bypass Project, eliminated corners and tunnels that ran on the scenic Puget Sound route. It was part of an $800 million project called the Cascades High-Speed Rail Capital Program, which also included a new Amtrak station in Tacoma.
Officials say the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone – more than twice the speed limit – when it jumped the tracks on an overpass south of Tacoma.
All twelve of the train’s coaches and two engines derailed, carrying 77 passengers and five crew members, with several coaches falling onto Interstate 5 below the overpass. Five cars and a pair of trucks were involved in the highway pileup, but no motorists were killed, officials said. Dozens were injured, including people from vehicles on the ground. Ten of those hurt were in serious condition, Washington State Patrol spokesman Dan Hall said.
At a news conference late Monday Pacific Time, NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said it was “too early to tell” why the train was traveling at such a high speed.
Just last month, the NTSB issued a report saying Amtrak had "deficient" safety procedures. In a statement published in November, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said, "Amtrak's safety culture is failing and is primed to fail again, until and unless Amtrak changes the way it practices safety management.”