An Amtrak train that derailed in Washington on Monday may have struck an object on the track before careening off the track and onto the busy interstate below.
According to the Associated Press, an official briefed on the investigation revealed that preliminary details indicate that Amtrak No. 501 struck something on a newly implemented high-speed route that had already raised concerns for city officials. It has not been confirmed what object may have impeded the path of the train.
CNN also reported that Richard Anderson, Amtrak’s President and Co-CEO, stated that the Positive Train Control (PTC) system was not activated on the track at the time of the incident.
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The PTC system reportedly detects objects on the track, as well as prevents a train from exceeding a set speed limit, the U.K. Daily Mail reported.
Washington State Department of Transportation released a statement Monday on the “tragic derailment,” stating that the section of track previously “used for occasional freight and military transport” had been newly renovated for “passenger rail service,” and had undergone “weeks of inspection and testing.”
As reported by The Western Journal, the Amtrak No. 501 derailed Monday morning shortly after leaving the Tacoma station, causing 13 of the train’s 14 cars to fall head-on into traffic.
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At least three people have been confirmed dead along with over 70 individuals sent to the hospital with injuries ranging from minor to life threatening, according to KIRO.
“I was just shocked,” said Peter Zimmerman of Olympia, a motorist who described the footage being replayed by numerous media outlets. “I couldn’t believe it. It was like something out of a movie.”
A photo of the wreck was posted to Twitter by the Washington State Department of Transportation, which urged drivers to avoid the now-highly trafficked area.
“Emergency crews are on the scene and the Amtrak Management is responding,” Amtrak said in a statement, according to CBS News. “Some injuries are reported. Service between Seattle and Portland is suspended for the time being.”
According to KOMO, multiple state transportation workers had stated that there were concerns with how passenger trains need to slow their speed along curves and single-track tunnels.
The solution, however, was to reroute passenger trains to a bypass line along the I-5.
The proposed track upgrade would allow the trains to move at up to 79 miles per hour — a speed which concerned numerous city officials.
“We want to make sure as many people as possible understand what’s going on, understand we are starting a new service on December 18th,” WSDOT employee Janet Matkin said earlier this month. “And ensure that they know how to stay safe around the railroad tracks.”
The bypass route was slated to have saved passengers a mere 10 minutes on their commute.
As if predicting Monday’s incident, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson had put out a statement expressing his concern, in which he urged DOT presenters to do better and suggested that it was simply a matter of time before one of the high-speed trains killed someone.
Anderson said grade separations, such as an overpass, should be included in the plans in order to keep the Amtrak trains away from both cars and pedestrians.
“Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements,” Anderson said.
“Or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens.”
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