The Amtrak train that derailed whilst travelling over a bridge on Monday was moving at almost three times the speed limit for that section of track, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The Amtrak Cascades 501 train, – which had been making its first-ever run along a new, faster route was carrying 83 people fell on to the highway below, killing at least three people, injuring dozens and crushing two vehicles.
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said at a news conference on Monday night that the event data recorder in the rear locomotive provided information about the train’s speed, revealing it was travelling 80 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone.
Whilst the NTSB will not release a cause of crash at least until completion of the on-site investigation. She did, however, detail some findings, stating that the train's emergency brake had not been activated by the train's driver, but was automatically activated during the accident. At the time of the accident, the driver was with a conductor familiarizing himself with the territory in the cab. Another conductor was intermingling with passengers.
It was the inaugural run of service along the Point Defiance Bypass route between Olympia and Tacoma. This is a multi-year $181 million project led by Washington State to re-route passenger service away from the slower, curvier BNSF track on the Puget Sound shoreline to an existing rail line further inland with less freight congestion.
The train was not “high-speed” rail, despite reports in the media. And the Amtrak train wasn’t equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), a technology that the NTSB has recommended the use of for decades.
In response to the accident, Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews said, "As a former first responder, I know first-hand how chaotic and frightening these kinds of incidents can be. It's far too soon to speculate about causes, and our focus right now should be on the victims, their families, and the first responders working the scene. My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time."
Among the three fatalities in the Amtrak derailment were two Rail Passengers Association members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, In a statement it is clear that both men were devoted to their family and friends, as well as passionate advocates for passenger railroad and advancing the advocacy work of RPA.
Our sympathies go out to their families, and those of all involved in this incident.
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