By Bruce A. Smith
An Amtrak “Cascades” passenger train enroute to Portland, Oregon derailed this morning just north of the Nisqually River near DuPont, Washington.
Six people were killed according to reports published by the Tacoma News Tribune, with almost all 77 passengers on board injured according to the New York Times. The majority of the injured were taken to St Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma and other nearby Franciscan Medical facilities. About 20 injured individuals were also treated at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Adding to the chaos and tragedy, the derailment occurred on an overpass above Interstate-5, with derailed rail cars falling on top of vehicles traveling on I-5. However, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department reported that no individuals in a car or truck on the roadway received any fatal injuries.
“All fatalities occurred on the train,” said Sgt. Ed Troyer, PIO of the PCSD, to assembled media at the crash scene.
The drama was further compounded with the realization that the section of track where the derailment occurred had just been renovated at the coast of over $180 million and had taken seven years to complete. This section of track was known as the “Inland Route,” and commenced in the newly completed Sound Transit commuter station in Lakewood, Washington, just south of Tacoma.
Earlier, Amtrak trains had to pass through downtown Tacoma on the “Coastal Route” which wound through the urban neighborhoods of Tacoma westward, and then down the shoreline of Puget Sound to Olympia. The new, Inland Route, was seven miles shorter and allowed freight traffic unrestricted access along the Coastal Route, facilitating movement into the industrial areas of Tacoma.
Incredibly, the derailed train, “Cascades 501,” was the first passenger train to take this new route, and was minutes from passing through the Olympia, Washington area.
The accident occurred just yards south of the Reservation Road exit off of the I-5, which is the main roadway to Yelm and provides access the South Gate of JBLM. In fact, first responders to the incident included fire and rescue units from the military base.
Southbound traffic on I-5 was closed reportedly, while northbound vehicles had to creep along one lane of roadway.
The cause of the incident is not known. Also unknown is when I-5 will re-open to all traffic.
Below is a press release form the Washington Department of Transportation pertaining to the crash.
Statement on Amtrak Cascades derailment
Today’s (Monday, Dec. 18) tragic derailment of the Amtrak Cascades southbound train has significantly impacted the lives of many this morning. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this event and their families.
We are working closely with multiple partners, including Washington State Patrol, Sound Transit, Amtrak, Pierce County, JBLM and local emergency responders to assess the situation and render assistance. After emergency response is complete, and the National Transportation Safety Board has released the scene, the train will be removed from the interstate right of way. We anticipate this will be a lengthy process due to the severity of the incident and the size and weight of the train cars. WSDOT is working with other agencies on any rerouting of traffic during the investigation.
The Amtrak Cascades train service is jointly owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor, and is responsible for day-to-day operations. Amtrak Cascades runs trains from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.
The tracks, known as the Point Defiance Bypass, are owned by Sound Transit. The tracks were previously owned by BNSF and were used for occasional freight and military transport. WSDOT received federal grants to improve the tracks for passenger rail service. As owners of the corridor, Sound Transit managed the track upgrade work under an agreement with WSDOT. Funding for the upgrades was provided by the Federal Railroad Administration, which reviewed work throughout the duration of the contract.
Today was the first day of public use of the tracks, after weeks of inspection and testing. To keep up to date with the latest information follow: Amtrak Cascades Derailment Updates. Sign up for our listserv here:
All photos courtesy of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol