Amtrak Train Derailment in Washington Kills 3, Injures More Than 100 OthersDecember 20, 2017
At about 7:40 a.m. on Monday Dec. 18, the Amtrak Cascades 501 train derailed near DuPont, Washington, about 20 miles outside of Seattle. Traveling around a curve at 80 mph, nearly three times the speed limit for that area, the train derailed at an overpass, hurling 13 of its 14 cars off the tracks, with some falling on to Interstate 5 (I-5) below.
- 3 of the 77 passengers and 7 crewmembers aboard the train have been confirmed dead.
- More than 100 others (including those in vehicles) have been injured.
Local law enforcement and authorities with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have not identified the cause(s) of this crash due to the ongoing investigation. Crew performance, train mechanics and track features are just some of the factors that authorities will likely look into as the investigation continues.
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on the Amtrak Cascades 501 train
Washington Governor Jay Inslee has declared a State of Emergency in Pierce and Thurston counties, ordering local authorities to “utilize state resources and to do everything reasonably possible” to help and respond to and this horrific train accident.
Train Derails on First Trip on a New Route, on Newly Upgraded Tracks
Jointly owned by the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation, the Amtrak 501 train serves 18 cities along the I-5. Prior to Dec. 18, the train had been operating on a longer, slower route that followed the edge of the Puget Sound.
On the morning of Dec. 18, the Amtrak 501 train was embarking on its first trip along a new, more direct route via tracks known as Point Defiance Bypass. According to the Washington Department of Transportation, these tracks have recently undergone extensive upgrades and testing, as part of a $181 million project to stabilize the tracks and make them safer for commuter operations.
Sound Transit, the company that owns the Point Defiance Bypass tracks, was also reportedly contracted to oversee the track upgrades and testing.
While the derailment raises many questions about the nature and extent of the track upgrades and testing, authorities have reported that safety technology known as Positive Train Control (PTC) was not operational on Dec. 18. PTC can automatically slow or stop a speeding train, leading some to believe that this technology could have prevented the derailment.
According to a spokesperson for Sound Transit, PTC was scheduled to be activated in the spring of 2018.
Tragically, some predicted that the Amtrak 501 train would be involved in a fatal accident well before Dec. 18. In the weeks leading up to this derailment, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson warned:
Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens.
A Timeline of Recent Amtrak Train Derailments
The devastating Amtrak accident on Dec. 18 is not an isolated incident, as Amtrak trains have been involved in several serious wrecks in recent years. The following presents a timeline of some of the most notable and catastrophic Amtrak train accidents that have occurred in the U.S. since 2011:
- April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers in Chester, Pennsylvania were struck and killed when an Amtrak train, traveling at more than 100 mph, derailed.
- March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas, sending five cars off the tracks and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track, shifting it at least a foot before the derailment.
- Oct. 5, 2015: A passenger train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the tracks. The derailment caused the locomotive and a passenger car to fall down an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.
- May 12, 2015: Amtrak Train 188 derailed in Philadelphia as it was traveling at 100 mph, about twice the 50-mph speed limit, as it entered a sharp curve. Eight people were killed and more than 200 others were injured when the train’s seven passenger cars jumped the tracks.
- March 9, 2015: At least 55 people were injured when an Amtrak train bound from North Carolina to New Jersey derailed after colliding with an oversized tractor-trailer that was stuck on the tracks in Halifax, North Carolina.
- June 23, 2014: An Amtrak train hit a vehicle that was apparently driving on train tracks in Massachusetts, derailing the train about 24 miles southwest of Boston. The three people in the vehicle were killed. None of the 180 people aboard the train was injured.
- Oct. 21, 2012: About 12 passengers and crewmembers on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Pontiac, Michigan were injured when two locomotives and at least one passenger car derailed after the train lost contact with the tracks near Niles, Michigan.
- Oct. 2, 2012: Traveling from Oakland to Bakersfield, an Amtrak train carrying about 169 passengers derailed after colliding with a semitrailer in California’s Central Valley. At least 20 passengers suffered minor to moderate injuries.
- June 24, 2011: A truck slammed into the side of an Amtrak California Zephyr train, traveling from Chicago to California, at a rural crossing 70 miles east of Reno, Nevada. Six people were killed and dozens were injured in this accident.
Amtrak has canceled various Cascade train operations as the investigation and cleanup efforts continue. Passengers are encouraged to check, change or review refund information for their train travel plans by calling (800) USA-RAIL or by clicking here.