Amtrak derails in Washington, going 80 in 30 mph zone

[Breaking news update at 2:55 a.m. ET]

The Amtrak train that derailed Monday in DuPont, Washington, was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to NTSB spokeswoman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, based on information that was retrieved from the rear locomotive's event data recorder. The train was traveling between Seattle and Portland when 13 of its 14 cars derailed, killing at least three people.

[Previous story, published at 2:12 a.m. ET]

An Amtrak passenger train derailed in Washington state, as several of its cars tumbled off a highway overpass on Monday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100 others.

The Amtrak Cascades 501 was making its first trip on a new service route between Seattle and Portland when the train ran off the track near DuPont. Thirteen out of its 14 train cars spilled off the tracks, with several strewn off the Interstate 5 overpass with rush hour traffic below, authorities said.

All the deaths were contained to the train, said Ed Troyer, the Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Latest developments:

-- More than 100 people were transported to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, DuPont Fire Chief Larry Creekmore said. Ten people were seriously injured and one was life-flighted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesperson.

-- Amtrak President & Co-CEO Richard Anderson said "Positive Train Control" was not activated on the tracks when the derailment happened. PTC is a technology that automatically slows down, and eventually stops, a train if it senses it is going too fast.

-- Investigators with National Transportation Safety Board arrived Monday. sent a 20-member team to investigate.

When it derailed

The crash happened about 7:40 a.m. in DuPont, about 20 miles south of Tacoma, near the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently, the train came out of a curve and ran off the track while crossing or approaching an open trestle over I-5. The following rail cars derailed in a jumble on both sides of the track, with some falling to the road below and landing on vehicles and one rail car dangling precariously over the highway.

Several motorists in vehicles that were struck by the fallen train cars suffered injuries, but there were no fatalities among people in those vehicles, the sheriff's office said. Five cars and two semi-trucks were involved in the crash, said Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Brooke Bova at a news conference.

There were 86 people on board at the time, said Magliari.

How did this happen?

The NTSB and local authorities have not said what caused the crash, but questions were quickly raised about the train's speed as it hit a curve.

Most of the route was graded for a maximum speed of 79 mph; the speed limit on the curve where the crash occurred is 30 mph, said Rachelle Cunningham with Sound Transit, the company that owns the tracks where the train derailed.

Cunningham said she did not know how fast the train was traveling when it derailed, and the NTSB has not released information about the speed.

Chris Karnes, a passenger on the train and chairman of the Pierce Transit Community Transportation Advisory Group, said the train was moving at a "pretty good pace" -- roughly 70 to 80 mph, judging from the fact the train was passing cars on the highway -- when it derailed.

Daniel Konzelman, who was driving on Interstate 5 at the time, also said the train and his car were "kind of parallel" and "it was going faster than us."

An early look indicates speed might have been an issue, said Russ Quimby, a former NTSB safety investigator, and CNN analyst Mary Schiavo, former Department of Transportation inspector general.

In a conference call with reporters, Amtrak's Richard Anderson said "Positive Train Control" was not activated on the tracks at the time of the derailment. This is a technology that automatically slows down, and eventually stops a train if it senses that the train is going too fast and could derail or get in an accident.

Anderson would not answer CNN's questions regarding the speed of the train or the crew's tenure at Amtrak.

Investigators will likely look at several factors including the track, human performance, operations and mechanics of the train.

A first day goes awry

According to an online schedule, the 501 train connects "18 cities along the I-5 corridor including Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, BC, and Eugene, Oregon." The train service is jointly owned by the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation, although Amtrak contracts to operate the service.

The train was running on track previously used for occasional freight and military transport, the Washington Department of Transportation said in a news release. The track had undergone millions of dollars of federally funded improvements and weeks of inspection and testing, the agency said.

Previously, the tracks where the derailment occurred were owned by BNSF. The tracks are now owned by Sound Transit, which managed the track upgrade in preparation for commuter service, the release said.

When asked if there were any known issues or blockages to the track, Kimberly Reason, a senior public information officer with Sound Transit, said Monday, "We are working with the Joint Command Center on scene to receive information from the incident investigation; no cause has been reported at this juncture in the investigation."

Amtrak service south of Seattle was temporarily suspended. Service from Seattle to points north and east was continuing to operate, Amtrak said.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from News | WPLG, and written by News | WPLG. Read the original article here.

This BBSNews article originally appeared on News | WPLG.