An Amtrak train on its inaugural route with paying passengers crashed today near Tacoma, Washington, killing multiple people and injuring dozens more. Local officials say they expressed concerns about the safety of the route in the months leading up to the crash. As investigators work to determine what happened, passengers and their loved ones are left to cope with the tragedy.
First Point Defiance Bypass Passenger Train Derails Onto I-5
According to a statement from Amtrak, there were approximately 85 people aboard Amtrak Train 501, which departed from Seattle at 6:00 a.m. headed for Portland. This was the first trip involving paying passengers for the train. The route, which had previously been used by freight trains, was upgraded to allow passenger trains. The project to update the route, known as the Point Defiance Bypass route, cost around $181 million.
The train derailed between Lakewood and Olympia, as it traveled across a bridge over Interstate 5. The derailment threw some cars onto the Interstate below the overpass, while another car hung precariously from the bridge and still others landed on a nearby embankment. At least 13 cars derailed in the accident.
An unnamed official told the Associated Press that at least three people died in the Washington Amtrak train crash and an estimated 100 were taken to area hospitals. So far, officials say that all fatalities were on the train and although some motorists on Interstate 5 were injured, there were no fatalities on the road.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said late Monday the train was traveling at around 80 mph in an area where trains are supposed to reduce speed to 30 mph. Investigators say it is too early to tell why the train was speeding.
Amtrak Train 501 Not Equipped with Positive Train Control
The Amtrak train involved in the DuPont area crash did not have safety technology known as Positive Train Control (PTC) at the time it derailed, according to multiple reports. PTC, an integrated safety system that combines GPS, wireless radio and computers, can automatically slow down a train that is going too fast.
Geoff Patrick, a spokesman for Sound Transit, the company that owns the track corridor told the media that PTC is installed on the tracks in the area where Train 501 derailed, but the technology is not yet operational. Patrick noted that the target date for PTC to be up and running on that segment of track is the second quarter of 2018.
According to NTSB board member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, “PTC would prevent types of accidents such as this. Whether it will prevent this accident remains to be seen. We should remember that PTC can’t prevent every accident. It does prevent certain types of derailments, overspeed accidents as well as incursions into work zones, for example.”
Over a year prior to this preventable crash, train accident attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman explained his frustration with the industry’s reluctance to move forward with PTC. “Human and mechanical error are facts of life. PTC has been perfected to a very high degree of reliability. It is inarguable that PTC saves lives, and commerce generally benefits by having goods delivered rather than trashed in a crash. Yet, railroads obstinately refuse to install PTC until after tragedy strikes,” said Goldman.
Attorney Ron Goldman Discusses Postive Train Control After Amtrak 188 Crash in May 2015
Passengers Describe Amtrak Cascades Train Crash
Those onboard the train said everything seemed normal until the train jolted. Following the jolt, some cars tumbled off the tracks and onto the road below.
“It was a split second between that and being launched into the seats in front of us. Those really cushioned the blow for us,” said Chris Karnes. “We could hear crumpling and crashing and screaming from people. The lights went out.”
Motorists who came across the wreckage stopped to help survivors off the train.
“I just wanted to help people because I would want people to help me,” said Daniel Konzelman. “I’m an Eagle Scout. I have a lot of first-aid training and emergency response training.” He continued, “I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. I saw a little bit of both.”
“We came around the corner and it had to have just happened…there were no police there yet,” said Danae Orlob, who was on the road when the accident happened. “There was one link of the train off to one side and the other on the other side of the freeway. There were crushed cars underneath. There was an insane amount of fire trucks and ambulances heading towards us.”
Ed Troyer, a spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, called the accident “pretty horrific.”
Officials Respond to Train Derailment Near Tacoma
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending a 20-member team to investigate the potential causes of the devastating train crash. The team was expected to be in Washington state late Monday. Meanwhile, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency following the crash.
“Today’s tragic incident in Pierce County is a serious and ongoing emergency,” Gov. Inslee said. “Trudi and I are holding in our hearts everyone on board, and are praying for the many injured. They are our top priority, and I know first responders are doing everything to ensure everyone has the care they need.”
A tweet from Washington state DOT notes that the Amtrak Cascades train service is jointly owned by the Washington state Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Amtrak is a contractor providing the service and oversees the day-to-day operations. Sound Transit owns the tracks, which were previously owned by BNSF. A company called Sound Transit owns the tracks where the derailment occurred.
As more information on the Washington Amtrak derailment comes in, one cannot help but compare the incident to the 2015 train crash in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured approximately 200 others. At the time of the Philadelphia crash, PTC was not installed on the section of tracks where the incident occurred. Officials were quick to point out that if the technology had been installed, the tragedy could have been averted.
Speak with an Experienced Train Accident Lawyer
The law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman has handled numerous train accident cases against Amtrak and other major rail operators. Our team of personal injury attorneys represented victims who were harmed in the 2015 Amtrak derailment in north Philadelphia, an incident that shares several similarities with the accident in Washington state. We have represented train accident victims since 1987, and have been longtime advocates for train safety improvements, including Positive Train Control (PTC).
If you were harmed in the Washington Amtrak derailment, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced train accident lawyer to help you through this difficult time. We understand the struggle you are going through because we have been there to help so many others who found themselves in similarly dire circumstances in the wake of a tragedy. To discuss your claim with an attorney, please fill out our contact form or call us today at 800-827-0087.