The scene of the fatal Amtrak derailment is shown on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, in Dupont. 
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The scene of the fatal Amtrak derailment is shown on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, in Dupont.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Here's what we know about the Amtrak derailment

Last updated: 12/19/2017, 6:53 p.m.

The emergency brake on the speeding Amtrak train 501 was automatically activated during the fatal derailment that sent cars spilling onto Interstate 5 on Monday.

The brake was not initiated by the engineer, said a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB previously said that data recovered from one of the train's event data recorders shows the train was moving 80 mph in a 30 mph area shortly before it derailed.

Read more: Speeding Amtrak train derails despite $181 million in track improvements


Tuesday was the first full day NTSB has been on scene to investigate the crash that has killed three people and injured more than 70, at least 10 seriously. The agency said inward and outward cameras from the front locomotive were recovered from the wreckage and sent to Washington, D.C. labs for further analysis.

NTSB estimates they will be on scene investigating for a week or more.

“We will be looking at all the different areas related to this accident, that includes such things as operations, mechanical, human factors, signals, survival factors and of course the event data recorders,” said NTSB spokesperson Bella Dinh-Zarr.

Dinh-Zarr said they will look into whether Positive Train Control, a technology that can slow trains, would have helped prevent the wreck.

“PTC can't prevent every accident, but it does prevent certain types of derailments, overspeed accidents as well as incursions into work zones,” she said.


Amtrak president and CEO Richard Anderson said in a news conference Tuesday evening that he was sure PTC would be at the center of the NTSB investigation and that it was a technology that was used on other Amtrak routes.

“I’m a huge believer in positive train control,” he said. “There’s no one who wants positive train control more than Amtrak.”

Anderson said they were on track to meet the Dec. 31, 2018 deadline to implement PTC on this route per federal regulations.

The train accident this week is the latest in a string of major Amtrak derailments in recent years. An Amtrak train derailed near Tacoma as recently as this summer, and eight people were killed in a Philadelphia crash in 2015.

Dinh-Zarr also said Tuesday the agency will be investigating maintenance records and conducting interview with crew members, all of whom were hospitalized, once they are medically able to do so.


Some news outlets have reported that distraction might have been a factor in the fatal crash. Dinh-Zarr said it is protocol to conduct interviews and look at the cell phone records of all crew members during this type of investigation.

What is known from NTSB is that there were two crew members in the cab at the time of the derailment: an engineer who was qualified by Amtrak on this route and a conductor who was "gaining experience" with this territory.

There was also an acting conductor train who was in a passenger car at the time of the accident.

Amtrak CEO Anderson said that having one qualified person in the train cab was an "accepted safe practice"

Crews have been working through rainy and windy conditions Tuesday to move the train cars to a secure staging location on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.


"Weather has not been kind to us during the recovery operation," said Washington State Patrol Captain Dan Hall. "They are miserable, but they are working as safely as they can."

Governor Inslee addressed the press Tuesday afternoon saying that the scene recovery was going faster than he anticipated and that any lessons learned once the investigation is completed would be implemented.

"We have confidence that we will get to the bottom of whatever caused this horrific tragedy," he said.

The southbound lanes of I-5 near the crash scene are still closed. Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Travis Phelps said they will likely continue to be closed at least into Wednesday morning, very possibly longer.

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.

The derailment happened in DuPont, about 40 miles south of Seattle near JBLM, around 7:30 a.m., during the Monday morning rush hour.

Officials say three people are confirmed dead. More than 70 were injured, and at least 10 people transported from the scene were in serious condition.

We know the identity of two of those killed in the derailment.

Zack Willhoite died in the wreck according to a statement released by his employer, Pierce Transit, where he has worked for 10 years as an IT customer service support specialist.

Read more: Love of trains put these victims on Amtrak 501

Jim Hamre was reportedly a friend of Willhoite and a fellow rail enthusiast, according to The Seattle Times. His death in the crash was confirmed by the Rail Passengers Association.

None of the fatalities have yet been formally identified by the Pierce County Medical Examiner.

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