Trucks cart off mangled train cars after Washington state crash

Wrecked cars from the Amtrak train that derailed are transported away in DuPont, Washington, Dec 19, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

DUPONT, Washington (REUTERS) - Workers lifted mangled train cars onto flatbed trucks on Tuesday (Dec 19) from the wreckage of an Amtrak train that veered off a bridge over a Washington state highway while travelling at more than twice the speed limit on its first run on a new route.

Three people aboard the train were killed in the Monday morning derailment in the city of DuPont, in which all 12 carriages and one of its two locomotives tumbled off the rails, officials said. Another 100 people were taken to hospitals, 10 with serious injuries.

Workers used two towering cranes in wet, windy weather as they sought to reopen the southbound lanes of Interstate 5, a major West Coast highway stretching from the Canadian border to Mexico. They expected to remove five of the cars and the locomotive by Tuesday afternoon and take them to a nearby US military base for further examination by federal investigators, officials said.

The locomotive alone weighs more than 120 metric tonnes and will require an extra-large truck to move, Dan Hall, the regional commander for the Washington State Patrol, said at a news conference.

"It's going to take quite a feat to get that out of there,"Hall told reporters. "We're still working on the logistics on how exactly we're going to do that."

The southbound stretch of highway will remain closed for several days, the Washington State Department of Transportation said.

The train was traveling on a new, slightly quicker route between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, with 86 people aboard, 80 of them passengers, Amtrak said.

At least a few of those aboard the train were rail aficionados excited for the first trip along the new route. Among them were Zack Willhoite, who was killed in the crash, according to Chris Karnes, chairman of the Pierce Transit advisory board, where Willhoite was an employee.

The train was speeding at 129kmh on a curved stretch of track where the speed limit was 48 kmh, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The board was investigating whether other factors besides speed were involved.

The derailment placed Amtrak, the country's main passenger rail company, under renewed scrutiny following a series of fatal incidents.

The stretch of track where the derailment happened had previously been used by slow-moving freight trains but was recently upgraded to handle passenger trains as part of a US$181 million (S$245 million) project to cut travel time between Tacoma and Olympia.

Washington state's transportation department said the track underwent "weeks of inspection and testing" before the new route was inaugurated on Monday.

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