As federal investigators piece together what caused an Amtrak train to derail near Olympia, here is what we know so far. At least three people died, but the exact cause of the crash is under investigation.
As federal investigators piece together what caused an Amtrak train to derail near Olympia, killing several passengers and injuring dozens more, we’ve compiled what we know so far.
Our reporting began early Monday, with reporters and photographers stationed across the Pierce County area, hearing stories from survivors and gathering details on the crash. That continued Tuesday and Wednesday, while many victims remained hospitalized and state officials discussed the magnitude of the event.
This is a rundown of our notes:
- Three train passengers died, according to the Washington State Patrol.
- Zack Willhoite, 35, and Jim Hamre, 61, two longtime rail advocates, were killed, as well as Benjamin Gran, 40, of Auburn.
- The train carried about 80 passengers and seven crew members when it derailed onto Interstate 5, officials said.
- On the freeway, five vehicles and two semi-trucks were damaged by the falling train cars and debris.
- An engineer and a new conductor who “was familiarizing himself with the territory” were in the cab during the crash, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Bella Dinh-Zarr.
- Another conductor was in a train car interacting with passengers.
- Aside from the dead, about 70 people suffered injuries ranging from minor scrapes to life-threatening wounds were taken to various hospitals for treatment. As of Wednesday morning, several remained hospitalized.
- Survivors are sharing stories of how they escaped the scene, some of whom were inside the derailed train cars, while witnesses are recalling how they hurried to help victims.
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- Monday morning was the first time Amtrak trains used the new Point Defiance bypass route that aimed to shave 10 minutes off the trip from Seattle to Portland.
- The tracks are owned by Sound Transit, which managed the recent track-upgrade work under an agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
- Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson said his city had fought against the new rail line, citing safety concerns.
- The derailment came just months before critical safety technology known as Positive Train Control (PTC) is scheduled to launch on the route.
- The Amtrak Cascades 501 left Seattle for Portland at 6 a.m. Monday, according to Amtrak.
- The train derailed at 7:38 a.m., according to WSDOT.
- Aerial images show all 12 rail cars and one of two engines jumped the tracks.
- The rescue effort spanned hours. The train’s precarious position complicated initial search efforts for victims by emergency responders.
- Meanwhile, miles of vehicles on I-5 became gridlocked. The traffic spilled to surrounding communities.
- Crews Tuesday used large cranes to hoist the rail cars onto flatbed trucks to take them to a reserved space at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).
- As of Wednesday morning, one rail car remained at the site: the train’s more than 270,000-pound locomotive.
- The southbound lanes of I-5 remain closed for the cleanup effort.
- The train derailed from a bridge onto I-5 near Mounts Road between Lakewood and Olympia.
- The rebuilt, $181 million passenger corridor goes from Tacoma to DuPont instead of a slow but scenic path along Puget Sound at Tacoma Narrows.
- The route crosses major arterials next to I-5 and JBLM.
- There are no switches or road crossings in the immediate area, said Janet Matkin, spokeswoman for WSDOT’s rail division. However, the corridor in general passes through neighborhoods and roads.
Here’s what we don’t know:
Why exactly the derailment occurred.
- Preliminary evidence suggests the Amtrak train was traveling at 80 mph when it derailed, according to NTSB’s Dinh-Zarr. The speed limit there is 30 mph.
- An engineer never hit the emergency brakes before the train left the tracks, she said.
- The federal investigating board, which will determine the cause of the crash, plans to soon interview the train’s engineer and crew members, who were all hospitalized, to help answer lingering questions.
When I-5 will open.
- WSDOT officials said bridge engineers have inspected the rail bridge and deemed it structurally sound, with minor damage that needs fixing before crews open the freeway.
- The closure will last at least through Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
Details on all of the victims.
- The identity of the third person who died remains unknown.
- The Pierce County Medical Examiner will formally identify the deceased, as well as determine cause of death.
What happens next?
- Because of the derailment, WSDOT said, Amtrak Cascades trains will detour onto their former route along the waterfront.
- People who need information about friends or family who might have been on the train can call 800-523-9101, Amtrak said.
These are the first deaths on Amtrak Cascades trains in Washington. Here is a rundown of serious train crashes and derailments nationwide.
Material from The Seattle Times archives is included to this report.