PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. – An Amtrak passenger train on its inaugural trip on a new service route derailed Monday morning near Dupont, Washington, spilling 13 cars off an Interstate 5 overpass and killing several people, according to the spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol.
The deaths “are all contained to the train,” said Ed Troyer, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “It’s pretty horrific.”
Troyer said there were “multiple fatalities” but couldn’t provide a precise number.
— About 77 people were transported to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, officials said. Four of them suffered serious injuries, according to Cary Evans, spokesman for CHI Franciscan Health
— Thirteen cars jumped the track. The train had 14 cars, including two engines, said Brook Bova of the Washington State Patrol
— A passenger on the train says his car derailed and everyone “catapulted” into the seat in front of them
— Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in the aftermath of the accident
— The National Transportation Safety Board announced it is sending a team to investigate
— Photos from the scene show at least one train car on the road, with another dangling over it
Injured taken to hospitals
Several motorists in vehicles that were struck by the fallen train cars suffered injuries, but there were no fatalities among people in those vehicles, the sheriff’s office said. Five cars and two semi trucks were involved in the crash, Bova said.
At least 77 people were taken to hospitals, authorities said, including victims who were able to walk off the train. Patient transportation is being coordinated from a command center at St. Joseph Medical Center and the Pierce County Disaster Management Command Center. Rooms have been set up for family members, officials said.
An Amtrak spokesperson said there were about 78 passengers and five crew members on board the train when the accident happened.
Emergency radio transmissions between the train conductor 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.
‘We catapulted into the seats in front of us’
The incident happened near the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Dupont, about 20 miles south of Tacoma.
Chris Karnes, a passenger on the train, is chairman of the Pierce Transit Community Transportation Advisory Group. He said he boarded the train between Seattle and Tacoma and took a seat on the third or fourth car.
Karnes said the train was moving at a “pretty good pace” — roughly 70 to 80 mph, judging from the fact the train was passing cars on the highway — when it derailed.
“We felt a little bit of a jolt and then at a certain point we could hear crumpling of the train car, and we were catapulted into the seats in front of us,” he said.
It appeared most of the passengers in Karnes’ car fared well, with the exception of an elderly man who banged his head on the bulkhead, he said.
Karnes’ car derailed — only the rear locomotive remained on the tracks, he said — and passengers kicked out a window and climbed down an embankment to summon help.
He did not know what caused the derailment but said the train had taken tighter curves at the same pace at which it crashed, and there were no issues.
Danae Orlob told CNN there was a semi and a crushed truck underneath the train cars.
“We came around the corner and it had to have just happened … there were no police there yet. There was one link of the train off to one side and the other on the other side of the freeway. There were crushed cars underneath. There was an insane amount of fire trucks and ambulances heading towards us.”
President has been briefed on the accident
President Trump was briefed on the accident in Washington, press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN, and he almost immediately posted a tweet about what he called the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”
Ten minutes later, the President addressed the victims.
“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont, Washington. Thank you to all of our wonderful First Responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House.”
Washington state’s congressional delegation shared their condolences on Twitter. Sen. Patty Murray said: “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.” Sen. Maria Cantwell said she was “following the derailment near Olympia closely.”
Rep. Danny Heck tweeted out information for individuals seeking additional information on the situation in a series of tweets, including a map and address for the family reunification center.
“Thoughts & prayers with all involved in @Amtrak 501 train derailment,” Heck wrote in another tweet. “Thankful for our first responders doing everything they can to help after this tremendous tragedy. @NTSB will be investigating.”
All southbound lanes of the interstate are closed due to the derailment and the sight stunned motorists heading to work. The incident took place at 7:40 a.m. near DuPont, between Tacoma and Olympia.
“I was traveling to work this morning along I-5 and we came to a sudden stop,” Greg Mukai told CNN by phone. “We all tried to stop quickly to avoid running into each other to be honest. Once we all came to a stop I was able to look up and see, unfortunately, this scary thing of … a train hanging off of the overpass. Lots of military personnel and people ran to try to help the best they could.”
First day of new service route
Monday was the first day of the new route for Amtrak 501’s Cascades service from Seattle to Portland, according to company’s website and a news release from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The train tracks, however, were not new.
The train service is jointly owned by the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation, although Amtrak contracts to operate the service for the two states.
The tracks, known as the Point Defiance Bypass, are owned by Sound Transit, said the Washington state news release. Sound Transit managed the track upgrade, which was funded by the Federal Railroad Administration, the release said.
When asked if there were any known issues or blockages to the track, Kimberly Reason, a senior public information officer with Sound Transit, said, “We are working with the Joint Command Center on scene to receive information from the incident investigation; no cause has been reported at this juncture in the investigation.”
When asked about the nature of the inaugural run at a news conference in Washington, NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr said, “We are aware this was an inaugural run of this service but we want to check out what that really means.”
Amtrak said it is aware of the incident involving the 501 train. According to an online schedule, the 501 train is one of Amtrak’s Cascades trains, which connects “18 cities along the I-5 corridor including Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, BC, and Eugene, Oregon.”
Amtrak service south of Seattle is temporarily suspended. Service from Seattle to points north and east is continuing to operate, Amtrak said. Amtrak Cascades trains 504 and 509 are canceled, the Amtrak spokesperson said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a 20-member team from DC to Washington state to investigate the derailment, the agency’s official Twitter account confirms.
Dinh-Zarr said the first members of the team should arrive in Washington state this afternoon.
Gov. Inslee asked motorists to avoid traveling on Interstate 5 while the Washington Department of Transportation works on alternate routes.
“Today’s tragic incident in Pierce County is a serious and ongoing emergency. 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.”
The governor’s office announced Inslee was going to visit survivors and the derailment scene.