(DuPont, Washington — December 18, 2017)
Speculation was focusing on an Amtrak inaugural run’s possible over speed operation Monday after the launch of Amtrak’s Cascade passenger train ran off the rails at about 7:50 A.M., PST. The train, loaded with 78 passengers and five crew members, derailed its lead locomotive and 14 cars onto Interstate 5 just south of Tacoma, WA, killing at least 3 (down from an earlier count of 6) and sending over 50 to four area hospitals in Pierce and Thurston Counties.
The wreck, which tossed several of the train’s coaches onto vehicular traffic and damaged, but did not cause significant injuries to the occupants of several trucks and autos on the busy rush hour highway, came as the Portland, OR-bound train entered a curve where speed should have been reduced to 30 mph from 79 mph, and which was tracked by an independent monitoring service at 81.1 mph.
Amtrak train 501 was using a new bypass route that had been given a track upgrade to shave 10 minutes off its Seattle-to-Portland operation, taking the route off Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks and placing it on tracks owned and operated by the agency which runs the Seattle/Tacoma area’s “Sounder” rail commute service (Sound Transit) . Monday’s trip was the first revenue run across what is known as the Point Defiance Bypass using former BNSF rails. Dignitaries aboard a Friday press run of a train using the bypass reported that earlier train had slowed as it approached the I-5 overpass.
Longwood, WA Mayor Don Anderson had been vocally critical of the route switch, saying “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because the project was never needed and it endangers our citizens,” he had told a forum of WDOT members, according to KATU-TV, Channel 2’s Joel Moreno. However, the mayor’s prophetic words were aimed at his fear of potential accidents involving vehicular occupants and pedestrians along the urban rail corridor.