At least six people died when an Amtrak train with 78 passengers and five crew members on its inaugural trip on a new line from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, derailed and fell onto traffic from an overpass of Interstate 5 just north of the Washington state capital, Olympia.
All of the surviving passengers were taken to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston Counties, including at least four who sustained severe injuries.
Pierce County sheriff’s Det. Ed Troyer said the train struck several vehicles on Interstate 5, but nobody in the vehicles died.
A U.S. official told the Associated Press preliminary signs indicate the train may have struck something before going off the tracks.
The Washington state Department of Transportation said the train was running on a new bypass that was created to avoid slow curves and single track tunnels on the BNSF Railway main line tracks near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound, the Seattle Times reported.
The new section changed the route of passenger trains to an inland route that rejoined the BNSF main line.
“Monday morning was the first time Amtrak trains used the new Point Defiance Bypass route. It was the culmination of a $181 million project that began in 2010. A new Amtrak station also opened in Tacoma. The change would reduce the length of the trip by 10 minutes and separate Amtrak trains from freight lines that frequently cause delays on the Point Defiance route,” the Times said.
All SB lanes of I-5 blocked near Mounts Road in Pierce County due to derailed train car. Avoid area! pic.twitter.com/SBH7dCc6yg
— WSDOT Tacoma Traffic (@wsdot_tacoma) December 18, 2017
Maria Hetland was on the highway when she came upon the blockage.
“It was awful,” she told the paper.
She said there were people walking on the roadway and more sitting on the side of the road wrapped in blankets.
“I don’t know how that train fell off that bridge. There’s a whole railing, a wall,” she said. “I don’t know how it crashed through the wall,” she told the paper.
Local television station KING TV talked with Greg Mukia, who was on the highway.
“I looked up and, obviously, super scary, train had come off the overpass there and parts of it were kind of hanging. Lots of smoke. People running to try to help.”
Authorities in Pierce County said several cars on the freeway were hit.
CBS News reported Amtrak announced service from Seattle to Portland had been suspended.
The network reported the Cascades service route was rated for a maximum speed of 79 mph for the section where the crash happened. Transitdocs.com, a website that maps Amtrak train locations and speeds, says Train 501 was going 81.1 mph moments before the derailment.