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Washington state Amtrak derailment: What we know

Local officials confirmed at least three fatalities.

An Amtrak train derailed south of Seattle on Monday, December 18.
Washington State Patrol via AP
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

At least three people were killed and about 100 taken to area hospitals after an Amtrak train derailed Monday in DuPont, Washington, local officials confirmed. The train reportedly derailed as it moved over a highway overpass, sending train cars hurtling down to the road below.

The Amtrak train, No. 501, had left Seattle at about 6 am, bound for Portland. The train was traveling on a brand-new route, part of a $181 million infrastructure project to reduce travel time and increase reliability, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The train, headed south with 77 passengers and seven crew members aboard, struck several cars on the interstate below, leaving highway strewn with twisted metal and debris. No fatalities were reported among the motorists, said the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, and the three people confirmed dead were believed to be train passengers. Local authorities said it is possible that the death toll will rise.

The cause of the derailment is not yet clear, and federal investigators are en route.

What we know

  • The Amtrak train was traveling south on a new route between Seattle and Portland, when it derailed at about 7:30 am on an overpass over a busy interstate highway near DuPont, Washington, the New York Times reported. Images, released by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, showed a mangled train car laying on the concrete, and another hanging from the tracks above.
  • The Washington State Patrol confirmed at least three people are dead and said about 100 people had been hospitalized, though the number of fatalities may increase. According to officials, those killed were all aboard the train. No drivers on the highway below were killed.
  • The train was traveling along a new route between Seattle and Portland with 77 passengers and seven crew members, though authorities had originally identified five staff board.
  • Brooke Bova, a trooper and spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol, said there were 12 passenger coaches and two engine cars, and 13 total cars jumped the tracks. Five cars and two tractor-trailers were hit when the train derailed.
  • Monday was the first day Amtrak trains ferried passengers through the new Point Defiance Bypass route, a nearly $181 million federally funded project intended to ease congestion for passenger trains. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the project’s benefits included “increased reliability” and “faster and more frequent Amtrak Cascades service,” by increasing train speeds to 79 miles per hour. The Washington Post reported that the new route had undergone testing before the inaugural trips with passengers on Monday.
  • The Seattle Times reported that the section of the tracks were the trail derailed curved, and so had a lower speed limit of 30 miles per hour. It is unclear exactly how fast the train was traveling before its cars sprung the tracks. Amtrak confirmed the train did not have active positive-train control technology, which can prevent a train from derailing when traveling at excessive speeds. Still, it is far too early to determine the possible cause of the derailment.
  • Emergency crews are still responding to the scene, and the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to the scene of the derailment, the Washington Post reported.
  • Brava, the Washington State Patrol spokesperson, described a situation still in flux, saying it was possible some people were still stuck on cars that weren’t yet safe for rescue crews to check. “We need to make sure those cars are safe before they can get on and check for more casualties,” she told reporters.
  • Ed Troyer, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, described the derailment as “horrific.”
  • Trump responded to the Amtrak derailment on Twitter, saying it “shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly.”

The president followed up with a Tweet offering his “thoughts and prayers” to those involved.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) called the derailment a “serious and ongoing emergency.” He declared a state of emergency in response.
  • Interstate 5 remains closed as teams respond to the scene, and officials warned the busy roadway could remain shut into Tuesday as crews finished securing the wreckage and the investigation got underway.

What we don’t know

  • The official number of dead and injured
  • What caused the train to derail

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