Amtrak Washington train crash: Investigators focus on speed

Amtrak Washington train crash: Investigators focus on speed


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Media captionFootage shows the scale of the derailment

A US passenger train that derailed, killing three people, was going at 81mph (130km/h) on a curve with a restricted speed limit, according to data from a train tracking website.

The curve’s speed limit drops to 30mph.

Passengers say the train rocked and creaked as it took the bend fast before barrelling off a bridge on to a motorway packed with traffic.

It happened in Washington state during rush hour on Monday and officials say 72 people were taken to hospitals.

A number of those injured are reported to be in a critical condition.

Authorities said all carriages had now been searched, but would not rule out a rise in the number of dead.

The cause of Monday’s crash has not been confirmed.

Seven vehicles, two of them lorries, were hit on the I-5 highway below. Several people were injured in their vehicles but none died.

State transport spokesperson Barbara LaBoe was quoted in the Seattle Times newspaper as saying the limit on most of the track was 79mph (128km/h) but drivers were supposed to slow dramatically at the spot where the train derailed.

She said warning signs were in place two miles before the lowered limit.

It was Amtrak’s first passenger service to run on a new, shorter route.

The derailment happened on a section of track previously only used for freight trains.

Train 501 had left Seattle, heading south for Portland, at 06:00 local time (14:00 GMT).

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Media captionPassenger describes the train crash: “We could feel cars crumpling”

One passenger carriage could be seen dangling from the bridge, while others were strewn across the road and the wooded area next to the track.

There were 86 people on board, including 77 passengers and seven Amtrak crew members, as well as a train technician.

Police say 19 people were taken from the scene uninjured. Of the 72 transferred to hospitals for evaluation, 10 were considered to have serious injuries.

A recording of the train’s emergency call to railway dispatchers was released to US media.

“Emergency! We are on the ground!” a man, possibly the conductor, radios in.

In a second radio call, another crew member reports that only the rear unit remains on the rails.

“All other cars appear to be on the ground in quite a mess,” he says.

The train’s engineer has a head injury, he tells dispatchers.

President Donald Trump’s first reaction to the derailment was to tweet that it showed the need for his forthcoming infrastructure plan.

However US media outlets pointed out his submitted federal transportation budget actually proposed cuts to funding to national rail systems.

He later added that his thoughts and prayers were with those involved.

The section of track where the crash happened has been recently rebuilt and upgraded using federal funds.

Washington’s governor has declared a state of emergency in two counties.

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Washington State Patrol

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One carriage was hanging from the tracks, while another was upside down

Passenger Chris Karnes, on board the train, said his carriage had careered down an embankment then come to a stop: “We could hear and feel the cars crumpling and breaking apart, and water came out from the ceiling.”

“In order to get out… we had to kick out the emergency window,” he added.

Governor Jay Inslee said he was praying for the many injured.

Officials set up a family reunification centre at DuPont city hall and asked people not to come to the scene of the crash.

A local news reporter who was on the train, but got off at a stop just before the crash, said many of those on board were railway enthusiasts, keen to experience the first high-speed train on the new route.

Every passenger was given a commemorative lanyard and badge to mark their journey, he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.

What do we know about the train?

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Only the rear locomotive unit stayed on the tracks

  • The train involved was operated by Amtrak and Monday’s service was the first 0600 departure under the new timetable and on the new Point Defiance Bypass route
  • The train consisted of 14 cars, two of which were locomotives
  • It was being led by a Siemens Charger locomotive and was trailing a P52 unit which was not under power, Amtrak said
  • There were 12 Talgo carriages, each of which could take up to 36 passengers, but only 77 customers were on board

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