A ghastly train crash near Olympia, Washington left 3 dead and dozens injured earlier this week. Traffic along Interstate-5 remains snarled for a third straight day. The train derailment, along a new Amtrak service route, occurred just 20 miles south of Tacoma.
The accident took place Monday morning in Dupont, WA, not far from the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Authorities say the train plunged off of the track as it began to cross over the trestle above I-5. Several of the succeeding train cars derailed also, some landing on the highway and several vehicles passing underneath. No fatalities were reported among the motorists in those vehicles.
The Amtrak train was traveling south to Portland, Oregon on its inaugural Amtrak Cascades 501 service route. According to Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Brooke Bova a total of 77 passengers along with 7 crew members were aboard at the time of the crash. Transit authorities believe the train was traveling 50 miles above the recommended speed limit at the time of derailment. Further reporting suggest the conductor may have been distracted moments before the crash.
Until recently, the track on which the train was operating was strictly used for military and freight transportation and was recently renovated, at the cost of millions, for public transport. The track has also been subjected to weeks of rigorous testing and inspection.
Witnesses described the derailment’s aftermath in apocalyptic terms. “It kind of felt like the end of the world,” said witness Emma Shafer, “like you just came out of a nuclear bunker and you’re standing there amongst all this wreckage.”
Passenger Scott Claggett described the chaos inside the train as it suddenly fell from the tracks. “I was going around the curve. We started to tilt and you’re just like, we’re going way too fast to be tilting like this. The car tilted, everything started flying toward me. People started flying toward me. There was glass, smoke.”
Patricia Freeman, another injured passenger, told a local Fox News reporter how the “train tipped and screeched and then just slammed onto its side. On the floor like a pinball and everything on that car was rubble.”
Two of the three passengers killed in the accident were identified as Zack Willhoite, a Pierce Transit employee, and Jim Hamre, a WSDOT civil engineer. The men were not only close friends, but also avid train aficionados. The third victim has yet to be identified.
Governor Inslee vowed to fully investigate the train crash in order to prevent further derailments in the future.