Officials: Amtrak train traveling 50 mph over limit shortly before fatal derailment | KUOW News and Information

Officials: Amtrak train traveling 50 mph over limit shortly before fatal derailment

Dec 18, 2017

Last updated: 12/18/2017  11:56 p.m.

An Amtrak train on its inaugural run from Seattle to Portland derailed Monday morning, sending several cars car off an overpass and onto a busy Interstate 5 below.


The derailment happened in DuPont, about 40 miles south of Seattle near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, around 7:30 a.m., during the morning rush hour.

The cause of the crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. A spokeswoman from the agency said late Monday night that investigators were able to download the event data recorder from the rear locomotive.

The data show the train traveling at about 80 miles per hour on a 30-mph part of track shortly before the derailment.

DuPont Fire Chief Larry Creekmore confirmed at least three deaths late Monday afternoon, with roughly 100 patients transferred to area hospitals for care.

Authorities said Monday night that all of the train cars have been searched and no victims remained at the scene.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said multiple drivers were injured but that are no reports of any drivers being killed. Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Brooke Bova said she believed the three confirmed fatalities were passengers on the train.

Greg Mukai was driving southbound on I-5 when the derailment occurred about 50 yards in front of him. 

"It clicked in my mind after I stared at it for a couple seconds that that was the train that I was just looking at earlier," he said. 

“It was really quiet – I was expecting more noise and craziness to be going on,” he said. “I think everybody was really in shock.”

Mukai said he then saw people getting out of their cars and rushing to help. Many appeared to be military personnel wearing their uniform or morning workout gear.

Daniel Konzelman was one of the people who rushed to help.

As an accountant he was dressed in a suit, but had boots and a headlamp in his car from a hike last weekend. "It just worked out good, I think it was a God thing," he said, speaking to KUOW's Kim Malcolm.

Konzelman and his girlfriend assisted people at the scene, helping the walking wounded to get to safety. Konzelman said he entered multiple cars to help assess and comfort those that were trapped while waiting for first responders.  

Emma Shafer, speaking to media at DuPont City Hall, said she was on the train car that was dangling from the bridge over I-5.

"It kind of felt like just like the end of the world, like you’d just come out of this nuclear bunker and you’re just like standing amongst all of this wreckage,” she said.

Trooper Bova said the train had 12 cars and two engines. A total of 13 cars jumped the tracks.

Bova said five vehicles and two semitrailers on I-5 were hit.

Emma Shafer speaks to media on Monday, December 18, 2017, at DuPont City Hall in DuPont.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Train 501 is one of four new trains that Amtrak added to their schedule between Seattle and Portland. The new service started Monday morning. The derailment occurred on the first run of the new morning train. 

Even before today’s fatal derailment, cities along the new Amtrak route have been voicing safety concerns for more than a decade.

In 2013, Lakewood, Washington sued in an attempt to block the train route from passing through town. They lost.

Lakewood City Councilmember John Simpson said the biggest concern was safety, with trains traveling up to speeds of 79 miles per hour.

“It is an issue that the city of Lakewood was adamantly opposed to in order for the train to save six minutes of travel time,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the mayor of Lakewood predicted the new route would lead to deaths; not due to derailment, but because of the increased number of railroad crossings in suburban areas.

Amtrak said the new route was created to avoid the slower, congested way along the water and improve travel times. The route used to hug the coastline along Point Defiance, but was moved inland a few miles.

Authorities said there were 86 people on the train — 80 passengers, 5 crew members and a technician. WSP Captain Dan Hall said Monday night that 19 people were transported uninjured from the scene and 72 were evaluated and transported to care, including 10 serious victims. One person was transported by life flight to Harborview Medical Center.

Madigan Army Medical Center accepted 19 patients (not 20 as they previously reported). As of 3:00, seven patients were treated and released. Of those that remained, nine are in serious and three in fair condition. 

Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup said they were treating 14 victims in their emergency room.

Eight patients were sent to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, two were listed as critical.

MultiCare Allenmore Hospital, a community hospital in Tacoma, took in five patients. Tacoma General is treating three.

Three male patients were transferred to Harborview Medical Center, the region's only Trauma I hospital, in the afternoon, according to spokesperson Susan Gregg. One was critical, the other two serious but stable. 

Amtrak said people with questions about their friends and family should call 800.523.9101.

All southbound lanes of I-5 were closed south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord at Nisqually Road (exit 116), and motorists were being warned to avoid the area or take alternate routes.  Washington State Department of Transportation anticipates these lanes will be shut down at least through Tuesday morning.

WSDOT spokesperson Claudia Bingham Baker said Monday night that work would continue overnight to disassemble the train and clear the road. After that, I-5 will need to be assessed to see what damage may need to be repaired before the roadway can be opened.

Northbound traffic is flowing and the Washington State Patrol has asked drivers not to exit, but to drive through the area so as to relieve stress on detoured routes.

Southbound travelers are asked to divert to highways along I-5. This includes state Routes 16 and 3 to the west and state Routes 7, 507 and 510 to the east.

As of 2 p.m. Monday Washington State Patrol was recommending this reroute for those traveling south: SR 16 from Tacoma to SR 3 and then Highway 101 to Olympia.
Credit Washington State Patrol via Google Maps

Amtrak reports service south of Seattle is temporarily suspended. Service from Seattle to points north and east continue to operate.

NTSB investigators were on scene Monday afternoon according to Trooper Bova. A spokeswoman for NTSB said late Monday night that they were busy fact collecting and no crew had yet been interviewed.

Pierce County hazmat is also on scene. 

West Pierce Fire Department battallion chief Jay Sumerlin said that there was a diesel spill in the dirt around the track and that officials were working on a mitigation plan. WSP Captain Hall said approximately 250 gallons of diesel were spilled onto I-5 and surrounding soil, but that it did not go into waterways and was being contained.

President Donald Trump referred to the derailment in an address Monday morning saying, "it is all the more reason why we must start immediately fixing the infrastructure of the United States."

Southbound Interstate 5 gridlocked on Monday morning. This view from Mounts Road near the scene of the Amtrak derailment.
Credit Northwest News Network Photo/Austin Jenkins