Amtrak train was speeding before crash

Emergency personnel near the derailed Amtrak train in DuPont, Washington. Thirteen of the train's 14 cars jumped the tracks. The scene at a portion of the Interstate I-5 highway after an Amtrak high-speed train derailed from an overpass on Monday. Th
The scene at a portion of the Interstate I-5 highway after an Amtrak high-speed train derailed from an overpass on Monday. The crash resulted in three fatalities, and about 100 people were taken to hospitals, of whom 10 had serious injuries. The train was on its inaugural run on a faster route from Seattle to Portland, Oregon.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Emergency personnel near the derailed Amtrak train in DuPont, Washington. Thirteen of the train's 14 cars jumped the tracks. The scene at a portion of the Interstate I-5 highway after an Amtrak high-speed train derailed from an overpass on Monday. Th
Emergency personnel near the derailed Amtrak train in DuPont, Washington. Thirteen of the train's 14 cars jumped the tracks. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

It was travelling at twice the speed limit when it derailed and tumbled off bridge

DUPONT • An Amtrak train that derailed this week as it took a corner on a new stretch of track in Washington state was travelling at more than twice the speed limit, sending rail cars tumbling from a bridge and killing at least three people.

The train was on its inaugural run on a faster route from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, on Monday when 13 of its 14 cars jumped the tracks and tumbled onto a major highway near the town of DuPont.

In addition to the three fatalities, about 100 people were taken to nearby hospitals, of whom 10 had serious injuries, Washington State Patrol spokesman Brooke Bova told a news conference.

Some motorists were injured but none died, the authorities said. Amtrak said there were 86 people on the train, 80 of them passengers.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said late on Monday that a data recorder recovered from a rear locomotive showed the train was travelling at 130kmh in a 48kmh zone when it jumped the track at a curve leading up to the bridge.

NTSB spokesman Bella Dinh-Zarr told reporters that it was too early to tell if the train's speed contributed to the derailment.

SHOCK AWAKENING

It felt like the end of the world, and I was standing amid the wreckage.

MS EMMA SHAFER, 20, a dance student who was napping aboard the train when it derailed.


CALL FOR ACTION

Though existing US infrastructure lags far behind other Western nations in performance and reliability, there is neither national agreement, nor any sense of mission, regarding the crisis.

THE SOUFAN CENTRE, a New York-based security think-tank, on US infrastructure posing a national security threat.

But the accident seems likely to intensify concerns about the railroad company's safety record, which was already under scrutiny following a series of fatal incidents.

"It felt like the end of the world, and I was standing amid the wreckage," said Ms Emma Shafer, 20, a dance student who was napping aboard the train when it derailed.

Mr Geoff Patrick, a spokesman for Sound Transit, which owns the track, said it had recently been upgraded to handle passenger trains from its prior use for slow-moving freight trains.

The derailment happened on the first day Amtrak trains began using the new inland route between the Washington cities of Tacoma and Olympia, part of a US$181 million (S$244 million) project to cut travel time.

The state transportation department said the track had undergone "weeks of inspection and testing".

The rerouting takes trains along Interstate 5, enabling them to reach speeds of 127kmh.

The derailment was Amtrak's second in Washington state this year. On July 2, a southbound train with more than 250 people aboard derailed in the town of Steilacoom, just a few kilometres north of Monday's accident. No serious injuries were reported.

Amtrak's co-chief executive Richard Anderson earlier said that positive train control (PTC), a system that automatically slows trains if they are going too fast, was not installed on the new stretch of track.

By law, PTC must be installed on all passenger rail systems by next year, a deadline that has repeatedly been delayed after rail agencies said implementation was more complicated than anticipated.

Sound Transit reported in September that it did not yet have PTC in operation.

President Donald Trump said the crash illustrated the need for infrastructure improvements.

The Soufan Centre, a New York-based security think-tank, yesterday called US infrastructure "a serious threat to national security".

"Though existing US infrastructure lags far behind other Western nations in performance and reliability, there is neither national agreement, nor any sense of mission, regarding the crisis," it said.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2017, with the headline 'Amtrak train was speeding before crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe