The National Transportation Safety Board says an Amtrak train that derailed Monday morning, spilling rail cars onto a highway below killing three people outside Seattle, Wash., was going 80 km/h above the speed limit.
Bella Dinh-Zarr, an NTSB board member, said at news conference at 11:30 p.m. PT that information from the event data recorder in the rear locomotive provided information about the train’s speed.
Dinh-Zarr said the train was travelling 128 km/h in a 48 km/h zone.
She said it’s not yet known what caused the train to derail and that “it’s too early to tell” why it was going so fast.
She said federal investigators will likely be on scene for a week or more.
There were 80 passengers and five on-duty crew on board when the train derailed and pulled 13 cars off the tracks. More than 70 people were taken for medical care — including 10 with serious injuries.
The train was making the inaugural run on the new route as part of a $ 180.7-million US project designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that’s bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.
Positive train control — the technology that can slow or stop a speeding train — wasn’t in use on this stretch of track, according to Amtrak President Richard Anderson.
In 2015, an Amtrak train in Philadelphia was traveling at twice the 80 km/h speed limit as it entered a sharp curve and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars jumped the tracks. Several cars overturned and ripped apart.
A track chart prepared by the Washington State Department of Transportation shows the maximum speed drops from 128 km/h to 48 km/h for passenger trains just before the tracks curve to cross Interstate 5, which is where the train went off the tracks.
The chart, dated Feb. 7, was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration in anticipation of the start of passenger service along a new bypass route that shaves off 10 minutes for the trip between Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state0:56
Kimberly Reason with Sound Transit, the Seattle-area transit agency that owns the tracks, said speed signs are posted three kilometres before the speed zone changes and just before the speed zone approaching the curve.
Eric Corp, a councillor for the small city of DuPont, Wash., near the derailment, said he rode the train with about 30 or so dignitaries and others on a special trip Friday before the service opened to the public Monday.
“Once we were coming up on that curve, the train slowed down considerably,” he said, adding that “in no way did it make me feel like we were going too fast.”
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