US train derails from bridge and hits motorway on first high-speed run leaving at least six dead

Rozina Sabur

A passenger train on the inaugural run of a new high speed service crashed off a bridge in Washington state killing at least six passengers and injuring motorists below.

The Amtrak train was carrying 78 passengers and five crew members when it derailed about 40 miles south of Seattle before 8am on Friday, the company said.

Credit: Trooper Brooke Bova‏, Official Washington State Patrol District 1 Public Information Officer 

Authorities said 77 are in hospital, with the death toll expected to rise in what is likely to prove one of the worst train crashes in recent US history. 

President Donald Trump called for an overhaul of the country's infrastructure in light of the crash.

The train was travelling from Seattle to Portland, and was passing through DuPont, a city in Washington state, when part of the train fell on to the busy interstate.

Picture posted on Twitter by Trooper Brooke Bova‏, Official Washington State Patrol District 1 Public Information Officer for Thurston, of Amtrak train derailment near Tacoma, Washington

The motorway is one of the main thoroughfares between the west coast of the United States and Canada. 

Ed Troyer, a spokesman from the Pierce County Sheriff's office, said several vehicles on Interstate 5 were crushed by falling train cars and multiple motorists were injured. Miraculously, none of the motorists were among the fatalities.

Photograph posted on Twitter by Pierce Co Sheriff's Department shows Amtrak train derailment near Tacoma

"All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill," passenger Chris Karnes told local media.

"The next thing we know, we're being slammed into the front of our seats, windows are breaking, we stop, and there's water gushing out of the train. People were screaming."

The train was making the inaugural run on a new route as part of a $180.7 million project designed to speed up services. 

Photograph posted on Twitter by Pierce Co Sheriff's Department shows Amtrak train derailment near Tacoma, Washington Credit: Twitter:PierceSheriff

However the mayor of Lakewood, one of the route's commuter towns, warned earlier this month that the high-speed trains were dangerously close to cars and pedestrians.

"Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens," Don Anderson told transportation officials, Seattle's KOMO News reported. 

Photograph posted on Twitter by Pierce Co Sheriff's Department shows Amtrak train derailment near Tacoma

The train was going 81.1 mph moments before the derailment, according to transitdocs.com, a website that maps Amtrak train locations and speeds using data from the railroad's train tracker app.

Amtrak train derailment location

The maximum speed along that stretch of track is 79 mph, according to information about the project posted online by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Credit: Twitter: PierceSheriff

A call from the train's conductor to emergency services suggested the crash occurred as the train attempted to take a corner at speed.

"We were coming around the corner to take the I-5 bridge...and we went on the ground," the conductor said. 

He added: "As soon as I know where all my train is I'll let you know."

Amtrak train derails from bridge in Washington State

On Friday afternoon investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were making their way to Washington to inspect the crash site and determine the accident's cause.

Bella Dinh-Zarr, from the NTSB said the agency has sent 20 investigators to visit the crash site. 

The investigators will assess whether mechanical failure, an issue with the track, or human error was at fault. 

Timeline Recent Amtrak derailments

8:18PM

13 train carriages left track

Officials said 13 train carriages have left the track during the crash.

Credit:  REX/Shutterstock

 

8:05PM

Train tested in February

The train was last tested in February 2017, CNN reported

8:04PM

Aerial shots show extent of damage

Credit: KOMO-TV 

 

7:38PM

NTSB to investigate the cause of the crash

Bella Dinh-Zarr, from the NTSB said the agency has launched a "go team" to investigate the crash site.  The investigation will assess whether mechanical failure or human error was at fault. 

Ms Dinh-Zarr said investigators would be arriving on site later this afternoon.

"We will be conducting a number of media briefings at the site in the next few days," she said.

6:49PM

At least six people dead

The accident killed at least six people, authorities have said.

6:43PM

Donald Trump promises to improve infrastructure 

The US president said the country's infrastructure would be improved in wake of the accident.

 

6:35PM

Governor declare state of emergency

Washington State governor has declared a state of emergency in Pierce County, where the crash occurred. 

6:29PM

At least 77  in hospital

At least 77 people were transported to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, the Tacoma-based CHI Franciscan Health healthcare network said in a statement. Four of them were considered "level red" patients with the most severe injuries.

6:22PM

David Millward, The Telegraph's former Transport Editor, writes:  

US rail safety record is poor with a succession of accidents in recent years.

Only last month Amtrak, the state run rail network, was criticised by the head of the US National Transportation Safety Board during a hearing into a fatal 2016 crash in Chester, Pennsylvania which killed two maintenance workers and injured 41.

Robert Sumwalt, the NTSB chairman, said that an investigation had revealed more than two dozen unsafe conditions. He added there was a "culture of fear at Amtrak"

In January this year 100 people were injured when a Long Island Rail Road train went off the tracks in Brooklyn

In September 2016 one person was killed and 114 were injured when a New Jersey transit train crashed into a terminal at Hoboken, New Jersey.

Concern has been raised about the ageing Amtrak fleet, with the average age of the fleet hovering around 30 years.

According to one estimate the US rail fatality rates are nearly twice as high as the EU.

5:46PM

Eye witness: passengers forced to kick out train windows to escape

Chris Karnes told local news outlet KIRO 7 that passengers were forced to kick out train windows in order to escape, because emergency doors were not functioning properly following the derailment.

"We had just passed the city of DuPont and it seemed like we were going around a curve," Karnes said. "All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill."

"The next thing we know, we're being slammed into the front of our seats, windows are breaking, we stop, and there's water gushing out of the train. People were screaming," he added.

5:40PM

All fatalities are from train, officials say

Photograph posted on Twitter by Pierce Co Sheriff's Department 

 

5:39PM

Mayor warned new route was dangerous earlier this month

The mayor of one of the towns through which the rerouted trains travel warned earlier this month that the high-speed trains were dangerously close to cars and pedestrians.

"Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens," Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told transportation officials in early December, according to Seattle's KOMO News. 

"Our community has been very concerned about the safety of this modification of the rail route for several years and were unsuccessful in either stopping it or having some modifications," Mr Anderson told MSNBC.