An Amtrak passenger train on its inaugural trip on a new service route derailed Monday morning near Dupont, Washington, spilling multiple cars off an Interstate 5 overpass and killing several people, according to the spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.
The deaths “are all contained to the train,” said Ed Troyer, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “It’s pretty horrific.”
Troyer said there were “multiple fatalities” but couldn’t provide a precise number.
Several motorists in vehicles that were struck by the fallen train cars suffered injuries, but there were no fatalities among people in those vehicles, the sheriff’s office said.
At least 77 people were taken to hospitals, authorities said.
An Amtrak spokesperson said there were about 78 passengers and five crew members on board when the accident took place.
Emergency radio transmissions between the train and the dispatcher were frantic and dramatic:
Dispatcher: Hey guys, what happened?
AMTRAK 501: Uh, we were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north into Nisqually and we went on the ground.
Dispatcher: …Is everybody OK?
AMTRAK 501: I’m still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.
— About 77 people were transported to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, officials said. Four of them suffered serious injuries, according to Cary Evans, spokesman for CHI Franciscan Health
— Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in the aftermath of the accident
— The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate
— Photos from the scene show at least one train car on the road, with another dangling over it
— President Trump has been briefed on the incident
Derailment brings major interstate to a halt
The incident happened near the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Dupont, about 20 miles south of Tacoma.
Troyer said multiple cars and trucks were struck by the train when at least one of the derailed cars hit the highway, and that some of the injured were able to walk off the train and are receiving treatment.
Danae Orlob told CNN there was a semi and a crushed truck underneath the train cars.
“We came around the corner and it had to have just happened… there were no police there yet. There was one link of the train off to one side and the other on the other side of the freeway. There were crushed cars underneath. There was an insane amount of fire trucks and ambulances heading towards us.”
President Trump has been briefed on the Amtrak incident in Washington, press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN.
Patient transportation is being coordinated from the command center at St. Joseph Medical Center and the Pierce County Disaster Management Command Center. Rooms have been set up for family members, officials said.
All southbound lanes of the interstate are closed due to the derailment and the sight stunned motorists heading to work. The incident took place at 7:40 a.m. near DuPont, between Tacoma and Olympia.
“I was traveling to work this morning along I-5 and we came to a sudden stop,” Greg Mukai told CNN by phone. “We all tried to stop quickly to avoid running into each other to be honest. Once we all came to a stop I was able to look up and see, unfortunately, this scary thing of… a train hanging off of the overpass. Lots of military personnel and people ran to try to help the best they could.”
First day of new service route
Monday was the first day of the new route for Amtrak 501’s Cascades service from Seattle to Portland, according to company’s website.
Amtrak said it is aware of the incident involving the 501 train. According to an online schedule, the 501 train is one of Amtrak’s Cascades trains, which connects “18 cities along the I-5 corridor including Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, BC, and Eugene, Oregon.”
Amtrak service south of Seattle is temporarily suspended. Service from Seattle to points north and east is continuing to operate, Amtrak said. Amtrak Cascades trains 504 and 509 are canceled, the Amtrak spokesperson said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team from DC to Washington state to investigate the derailment, the agency’s official Twitter account confirms.
“NTSB is launching a go-team to investigate the Amtrak passenger train derailment in the State of Washington. Team will depart DC today. Additional information to follow when available,” the tweet said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency for the counties affected by the derailment and asked motorists to avoid traveling on Interstate 5 while the Washington Department of Transportation works on alternate routes.
“Today’s tragic incident in Pierce County is a serious and ongoing emergency. Trudi and I are holding in our hearts everyone on board, and are praying for the many injured. They are our top priority, and I know first responders are doing everything to ensure everyone has the care they need.”
By Joe Sterling, CNN