An Amtrak train making the first-ever run along a faster new route hurtled off an overpass south of Seattle on Monday and spilled some of its cars onto the highway below, killing at least three people, injuring dozens and crushing two vehicles, authorities said.
Attention quickly turned to the train’s speed. Federal investigators say the train was traveling at 80 mph (129 kmh) in a 30 mph (48 kmh) zone. Bella Dinh-Zarr, an NTSB board member, said at a Monday night news conference that information from the event data recorder in the rear locomotive provided information about the train’s speed.
Dinh-Zarr said it’s not yet known what caused the train to derail and that “it’s too early to tell” why it was going so fast.
She said federal investigators will likely be on scene for a week or more.
There were 80 passengers and five on-duty crew on board when the train derailed and pulled 13 cars off the tracks. Authorities said there were three confirmed deaths. More than 70 people were taken for medical care — including 10 with serious injuries.
About two hours after the accident, a US official who was briefed on the investigation said he was told at least six people were killed. The official said he had no new information to explain the discrepancy in the numbers.
The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
A track chart prepared by the Washington State Department of Transportation shows the maximum speed drops from 79 mph (127 kmh) to 30 mph for passenger trains just before the tracks curve to cross Interstate 5, which is where the train went off the tracks.
The chart, dated February 7, 2017, was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration in anticipation of the start of passenger service along a new bypass route that shaves 10 minutes off the trip between Seattle and Portland.
Kimberly Reason with Sound Transit, the Seattle-area transit agency that owns the tracks, confirmed to the AP that the speed limit at the point where the train derailed is 30 mph (48 kmh). Speed signs are posted 2 miles (3 km) before the speed zone changes and just before the speed zone approaching the curve, she said.
Positive train control — the technology that can slow or stop a speeding train — wasn’t in use on this stretch of track, according to Amtrak President Richard Anderson.
He spoke on a conference call with reporters, said he was “deeply saddened by all that has happened today.”
Bob Chipkevich, a former NTSB director of railroad, pipeline and hazardous materials investigations, told The Seattle Times the crash looked like a high-speed derailment based on television images.
In a radio transmission immediately after the accident, the conductor can be heard saying the train was coming around a corner and was crossing a bridge that passed over Interstate 5 when it derailed. Dispatch audio also indicated that the engineer survived with bleeding from the head and both eyes swollen shut.
“I’m still figuring that out. We’ve got cars everywhere and down onto the highway,” he tells the dispatcher, who asks if everyone is OK.