Aerial footage shows more Amtrak rail cars off their track and on the ground after it derailed in Pierce County, Washington.
— CNN (@CNN) December 18, 2017
Monday morning’s rush hour spiraled into disaster when an Amtrak train derailed while crossing an interstate overpass in Washington’s Pierce County near Olympia. Although immediate reports indicated that several casualties had occurred (and 78 passengers were confirmed aboard), the precarious nature of the situation meant that firm numbers wouldn’t immediately be forthcoming. However, the above CNN clip contains aerial helicopter footage that reveals how the crash site not only includes one danging train car but multiple other train cars that landed in the wood area surrounding the track. (CNN further reports that 13 of the train’s 14 cars derailed.)
With the the interstate shut down and first responders able to fully access the scene, outlets are now reporting tentative figures that are subject to change. Local CBS affiliate WBAL and the Associated Press report that at least 3 people have died as a result of the derailment with 77 more injured. Some of the injuries reportedly affected those in vehicles (5 motor vehicles were impacted) below the overpass when the derailment occurred, although authorities believe that no one who was traveling on the interstate was among the fatalities.
CNN has published part of the transcript from an emergency services call from the train operator after the derailment occurred:
Emergency responder: “Hey, guys what happened?”
Train operator: “We were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 over there, right north into [unclear] and we went on the ground.”
Emergency responder: “OK, is everybody OK?”
Train operator: “I am still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.”
The Amtrak train in question was operating on first day of service for the 501 line — which follows a brand new bypass along a $181 million route that’s largely funded by the federal government. Despite these details, President Trump has marked the tragedy by tweeting about his upcoming infrastructure plan that “must be approved quickly” to avoid further crumbling:
However, he soon doubled back with a “thoughts and prayers” tweet.
Trump then reinforced his “infrastructure” claim during the opening portion of his address on national security.
President Trump on passenger train derailment in Washington state: “We are closely monitoring the situation and coordinating with local authorities. It is all the more reason why we must start immediately fixing the infrastructure of the United States.” https://t.co/Y48RpSoqox pic.twitter.com/VkJ2uIOCFc
Although authorities haven’t publicly discussed a possible cause for the incident, details of note include real-time data that showed the train traveling at 81 mph on a service approved for a top speed of 79 mph in the area where the incident occurred. For now, the National Transportation Safety Board has tweet-announced the launching of a “go-team” to investigate the crash area.
UPDATE #1 – 4:20pm EST: The Atlantic reveals that Positive Train Control, a technology that can slow down or stop a train that’s going too fast, was not in effect at the time of the derailment:
In 2008, Congress mandated PTC be in place for all passenger, commuter, and hazardous-materials trains by the end of 2015, but under pressure from railroads, that deadline was extended to the end of 2018. Amtrak said Monday afternoon that PTC was not in effect on the stretch of track where Amtrak 501 derailed.
We will, of course, update this story as more details arrive.