Tue | Jan 15, 2019

Train was speeding 50 mph over limit before deadly wreck

Published:Wednesday | December 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Cars from an Amtrak train that derailed lie spilled onto Interstate 5, Monday, in DuPont, Washington.

DUPONT, Washington (AP):

The Amtrak train that careened off an overpass south of Seattle, killing at least three people, was hurtling 50 mph over the speed limit when it jumped the track, federal investigators say.

Bella Dinh-Zarr, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said at a Monday night news conference that the data recorder in the rear locomotive showed the train was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone when it derailed along a curve, spilling railcars on to an interstate highway below.

Dinh-Zarr said it is not yet known what caused the train to derail and too early to say why it was going so fast. She said investigators will talk to the engineer and other crew members. In previous deadly train wrecks, investigators looked at whether the engineer was distracted or disoriented.

The engineer, whose name was not released, was bleeding from the head after the wreck, and both eyes were swollen shut, according to dispatch audio.

The train was making the inaugural run along a fast new bypass route that was created by refurbishing freight tracks alongside Interstate 5. The $180.7-million project was aimed at speeding up service by bypassing an old route that had a number of curves, single-track tunnels, and freight traffic.

Positive train control technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train wasn't in use on this stretch of track, according to Amtrak President Richard Anderson.

Regulators have been pressing railroads for years to install such technology, but the deadline has been extended repeatedly at the industry's request and is now the end of 2018.

The 7:34 a.m. accident left mangled train cars up on top of each other, with one hanging precariously over the freeway. The screech and clang of metal was followed by silence, then screams, as the injured cried out to rescuers and motorists pulled over and rushed to help.

Train passenger Emma Shafer found herself at a 45-degree angle, staring at the seats in front of her that had come loose and swung around.

"It felt oddly silent after the actual crashing," she said. "Then there were people screaming because their legs were messed up. ... I don't know if I actually heard the sirens, but they were there. A guy was like, 'Hey, I'm Robert. We'll get you out of here.'"

More than 70 people were injured, 10 of them seriously.