2017 Washington train derailment

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

2017 Washington train derailment
Aerial view of the wreckage after the derailment.
Aerial view of the wreckage after the derailment.
2017 Washington train derailment is located in Washington (state)
2017 Washington train derailment
2017 Washington train derailment is located in the United States
2017 Washington train derailment
DateDecember 18, 2017 (2017-12-18); 1 year ago
Time07:33 local time (15:33 UTC)
LocationNear DuPont, Washington
Coordinates47°04′55″N 122°40′33″W / 47.0820°N 122.6757°W / 47.0820; -122.6757Coordinates: 47°04′55″N 122°40′33″W / 47.0820°N 122.6757°W / 47.0820; -122.6757
CountryUnited States
LinePoint Defiance Bypass
Incident typeDerailment caused by overspeed
CauseUnder investigation

On December 18, 2017, Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 derailed near DuPont, Washington, United States. It was the inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass, a new passenger rail route south of Tacoma, Washington. The bypass was intended to reduce congestion and separate passenger and freight traffic, and was designed for faster speeds and shorter travel times (saving ten minutes from Seattle to Portland) than the previous route used by Cascades.[1]

The lead locomotive and all twelve cars derailed while approaching a bridge over Interstate 5 (I-5). The trailing locomotive remained on the rails. A number of automobiles on southbound I-5 were crushed and three people on board the train died. The train derailed a short distance from where the new route merges with the previous route.

Preliminary data from the data recorder showed that the train was traveling at 78 miles per hour (126 km/h),[2] nearly 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) over the speed limit, when the incident happened.[3]


Overview of new Amtrak Cascades inland route (red; to the south), showing accident location, and old shoreline route (green; to the north)

The Point Defiance Bypass was built from 2010 to 2017 as a replacement for the BNSF mainline that runs along the Puget Sound coast between the Nisqually River and Tacoma. The $181 million bypass, using an inland route that follows I-5, was built by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on right of way owned by Sound Transit, the regional transit authority.[1][4] The Amtrak Cascades service is a joint effort of WSDOT and Oregon Department of Transportation, with Amtrak as a contracting operator.[5] In the wake of the December 18 derailment, the safety of the bypass was questioned by elected officials.[6] The 2006 Cascades corridor plan recommended that the curve and overpass where the derailment occurred be replaced with a straighter alignment, costing $412 million. The final plans omitted the overpass replacement, with a smaller budget of $180 million granted for the entire project.[7]


Schematic site overview. The lead locomotive is the leftmost vehicle and stopped in the southbound lanes of Interstate 5. The train's rear locomotive is top-right. One car lies inverted under the bridge (shown in blue).

At 07:33 local time (15:33 UTC), the leading locomotive and twelve cars of the southbound Amtrak Cascades number 501 passenger train derailed southwest of DuPont.[8] DuPont is about 40 mi (64 km) south of Seattle and about 5 mi (8.0 km) south of the Joint Base Lewis–McChord (JBLM) main gate. The train derailed while approaching the railroad bridge across southbound I-5 near Mounts Road,[9] which contains a left-hand bend.[10]

The lead locomotive, a new Siemens Charger No. 1402,[8] and six rail cars went down the embankment to the west of the bridge (to the right, in the original direction of travel); the locomotive ended up on I-5 and spilled about 350 US gal (1,300 L) of fuel.[11] Two further cars ended up on the bridge span, and three cars went off the railroad bridge abutment on the opposite side, some onto I-5.[12][13] The trailing General Electric Genesis P42DC locomotive, No. 181, remained on the tracks.[8] Seven vehicles, including two trucks, were damaged by the derailed cars of the train.[14]

The southbound train was operating between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, on the first revenue service run of the Cascades on the new, faster Point Defiance Bypass route between Lacey and Tacoma.[4] The train was running about 30 minutes behind schedule.[15][16] Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said that positive train control was not active on the track,[17] a factor cited in two accidents along a curve in Spuyten Duyvil and a similar crash along a curve in Port Richmond, Philadelphia.[18][19]


There were five Amtrak employees, a technician from train manufacturer Talgo,[20] and 77 passengers on board the train at the time of the derailment.[21][22][23] Three passengers were killed and 62 passengers and crewmembers were injured.[21][10] Ten of the injured were in serious condition, and thirteen had moderate or minor injuries.[24] Some passengers in vehicles on I-5 were also injured.[23] In total, more than 80 people were injured.[25] Treatment was provided at hospitals including Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM, Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, Tacoma General Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, and St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood.[26][9] Three soldiers from Joint Base Lewis–McChord (JBLM), including a Madigan Army Medical Center nurse, left their vehicles to give medical assistance to people trapped inside the train cars, and help them escape.[27]

The three passengers killed in the derailment were train enthusiasts, including two members of rail advocacy group All Aboard Washington.[28][29]


WSDOT-recommended detour routes on the evening of December 18 extended more than 70 mi (110 km) for the northern route with a travel time over 90 minutes, or alternatively, a southern route of 50 mi (80 km), with a travel time over 2 hours.[9][30] Under normal conditions, driving 29 mi (47 km) from Tacoma to Olympia takes about 30 minutes.[31]

Amtrak temporarily suspended service for south of Seattle for several hours because of the accident,[23] resuming on the former coast route and the old Tacoma station.[32][33] Southbound automobile traffic was rerouted away from I-5 by WSDOT until the site was cleared of debris and inspected.[34] On December 18, JBLM allowed southbound traffic through from DuPont to State Route 510 near Lacey.[35]

WSDOT announced on December 21 that it would not resume Amtrak service on the Point Defiance Bypass until positive train control is implemented in 2018.[36] The accident caused at least $40 million in damage, including the cost of the trainset, damage to vehicles, and damage to the overpass.[21]

Cleanup and freeway reopening[edit]

Some of the wrecked train cars were removed by trucks on December 19.[37] Two southbound lanes of I-5 were reopened on December 20, with a reduced speed limit, as the cleanup and investigation continued.[38][39] By the morning of December 21, all lanes of the freeway had been reopened.[40]

Fate of locomotives[edit]

AMTK 1402 was severely damaged and scrapped, making it one of the shortest run Amtrak locomotives.[citation needed] AMTK 181 was returned to the roster with minimal damage.[citation needed]


Within hours of the derailment, Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency and activated the Washington Military Department's emergency operations center at Camp Murray, adjacent to JBLM, to coordinate the multi-agency response to the incident.[26][41]

A civilian support and reunification center was set up at DuPont City Hall.[42] The Bloodworks Northwest blood bank called for donors after the crash.[43]

President Donald Trump said on Twitter a few hours after the accident that the derailment shows that his "soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be passed quickly." He said "several trillion dollars" were spent in the Middle East while the transport infrastructure "crumble[s]". A second tweet said his "thoughts and prayers are with everyone", and he thanked first responders.[44] The Associated Press and The New York Times reports of Trump's tweets said the accident had occurred on newly constructed track that was part of a recently upgraded line.[15][45] The New York Times added that this project was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, an act signed by President Barack Obama that aimed to address infrastructure shortfalls.[15]

The New York Times editorial board said that the derailment is symptomatic of the Federal Government's failure to invest in infrastructure. It said that despite Trump seemingly acknowledging the problem, his administration's $630 million budget cuts to Amtrak, and a proposed plan to shift infrastructure costs down to state and local governments, would only serve to aggravate the problem.[46]


NTSB engineers examine the locomotive event recorder two days after the derailment

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) opened an investigation into the accident[8] and dispatched a 20-member Go Team to the crash site.[47] The NTSB said its investigators would be on-site for seven to ten days.[14] One aspect of the investigation is whether the engineer lost situational awareness.[48]

The NTSB said the train was traveling at 80 mph (130 km/h) at a point soon before it derailed.[49] The speed limit on the curved track segment where the derailment occurred is 30 mph (48 km/h),[50] but the preceding track segment north of Mounts Road has a limit of 79 mph (127 km/h).[51] An initial review by the NTSB said that the train data recorders had been recovered from both locomotives. The recorder showed that the engineer had commented on the train's excessive speed six seconds before the derailment, and applied the brakes. The lead locomotive was traveling at 78 mph (126 km/h) when recording stopped. The NTSB said their investigation will take 12 to 24 months.[52] A preliminary report into the accident was published on January 4, 2018.[53]

The NTSB interviewed the train's engineer, who suffered serious injuries, in January. He told investigators that he did not see the advance speed sign or milepost 18, mistakenly thinking he was at milepost 17. The engineer applied the train's brakes after seeing the final speed signpost, immediately north of the curve.[54]

In its final hearing on May 21, 2019, the NTSB investigators placed blame on Sound Transit for its failure to mitigate the curve and stated that the train engineer had inadequate training on the new line and equipment to handle the situation.[55] The NTSB stated that the crew was attentive and not distracted by conversation or cellular telephones. Although the engineer knew about the overpass ahead, he had missed the single sign telling him to slow down; he also missed the milepost markers. As the train approached the curve, the train signaled a warning, but the engineer, being new to the Charger locomotive, had to study the console to decipher the warning. It was an overspeed warning: the train was moving faster than 80 miles per hour (130 km/h), the maximum speed on the line. (It was not warning the engineer about approaching the 30-mile-per-hour (48 km/h) section; the system did not have that capability.) During the 20 seconds that the engineer was deciphering the warning, he was not looking outside and therefore could not see the approaching danger. When he did look up, it was too late.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Point Defiance Bypass". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  2. ^ "NTSB Conducts Initial Review of Amtrak Train Recorders" (Press release). National Transportation Safety Board. December 22, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  3. ^ Lazo, Luz; Halsey, Ashley III (December 18, 2017). "At least 3 killed after Amtrak train derails in Washington state, spilling onto busy highway". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Sailor, Craig (December 9, 2017). "One of last great Washington train rides coming to an end". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  5. ^ "Statement on Amtrak Cascades derailment" (Press release). Washington State Department of Transportation. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  6. ^ Sailor, Craig (December 18, 2017). "It should have been a celebration for new $181 million train route. What went wrong?". The News Tribune. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  7. ^ Mann, Ted (December 22, 2017). "The Deadly Curve Where Amtrak Train Derailed Was Deemed Too Costly to Remove". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d "Washington train crash: Rail carriage falls on US motorway". BBC News. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c "Multiple fatalities, scores injured after Amtrak train plunges off bridge onto I-5". KOMO. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Deaths as train derails on highway bridge in Washington state". Sky News. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  11. ^ "8 p.m. update to I-5 Train Derailment". Washington State Patrol. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  12. ^ Lazo, Luz; Halsey III, Ashley (December 18, 2017). "At least 3 killed after Amtrak train derails in Washington state, spilling onto busy highway". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  13. ^ "Photos: Amtrak train plunges off tracks, closes I-5 south of Tacoma". KOMO. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  14. ^ a b "Amtrak Washington train crash: Investigators focus on speed". BBC News. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  15. ^ a b c Chokshi, Niraj (December 18, 2017). "Amtrak Train Derailment Leaves Multiple People Dead in Washington State". The New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  16. ^ Mann, Ted; Lazo, Alejandro; Elinson, Zusha (December 18, 2017). "Three Are Killed as Amtrak Train Derails in Washington State". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  17. ^ "Railroad investigator: 'Shame on them' if there was no Positive Train Control". CNN. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  18. ^ Graham, David A. (December 18, 2017). "A Fatal Derailment in Washington State". The Atlantic.
  19. ^ Bloomquist, Sarah (December 18, 2017). "Amtrak train derailment draws comparisons to Philadelphia Amtrak derailment in 2015". Philadelphia: WPVI News.
  20. ^ "Amtrak train derails in Washington; fatalities reported". CBS. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  21. ^ a b c "Preliminary Report: Amtrak Passenger Train 501 Derailment, DuPont, Washington, December 18, 2017". National Transportation Safety Board. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  22. ^ "Amtrak Washington train crash: Deaths as carriages fall on US motorway". BBC News. December 19, 2017.
  23. ^ a b c "Deaths reported aboard Amtrak train that derailed over Washington state highway". CNN. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  24. ^ "Amtrak Train Derails On Overpass In Washington State, Killing 3". NPR. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  25. ^ "'Holy cow, so the train is actually on the road?': The wreck of Amtrak 501". Seattle Times. December 24, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  26. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Joseph; Bush, Evan; Clarridge, Christine (December 18, 2017). "At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails from bridge onto Interstate 5 near Olympia". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  27. ^ Ovel, Suzanne (December 21, 2017). "Joint Base Lewis–McChord Soldiers rescue train accident victims" (Press release). United States Army.
  28. ^ Lindblom, Mike; Gutman, David (December 19, 2017). "Close friends who loved trains among those killed in Amtrak train derailment in Washington state". The Seattle Times. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  29. ^ Mikkelsen, Drew; Bernhard, Jimmy (December 20, 2017). "Victims in Amtrak derailment had a love of trains". KING 5 News. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  30. ^ "Washington State Travel Alerts". Washington State Department of Transportation. December 18, 2017. Archived from the original on December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  31. ^ "Travel Times for Tacoma all directions". Washington State Department of Transportation. July 17, 2017. Archived from the original on July 18, 2017.
  32. ^ "Amtrak Service Disruption South of Seattle" (Press release). Amtrak. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  33. ^ Njus, Elliot (December 18, 2017). "Wash. Amtrak derailment blocks I-5 south, causes northbound backup; some Amtrak trains canceled". The Oregonian. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  34. ^ Orenstein, Walker (December 18, 2017). "Commuters: Stay away from I-5 after Amtrak derailment". The Olympian. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  35. ^ Pittman, Travis (December 18, 2017). "Multiple fatalities, dozens injured in Amtrak crash near DuPont". KING-TV. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  36. ^ Baker, Mike (December 21, 2017). "Washington state: No passenger trains on Amtrak derailment route until safety systems are in place". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  37. ^ Clarridge, Christine; Lee, Jessica. "Cars of Amtrak train that was traveling 50 mph over limit when it derailed are being removed from I-5". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  38. ^ Gutman, David; Long, Katherine (December 20, 2017). "Two I-5 lanes blocked by Amtrak train crash in DuPont will reopen about 5 p.m. Wednesday". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  39. ^ WSDOT Tacoma Traffic [@wsdot_tacoma] (December 20, 2017). "2 lanes SB I5 now open. 45 mph reduced speed as crews still work" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  40. ^ staff (December 21, 2017). "All lanes of I-5 at site of deadly Amtrak train derailment are open for morning commute". The Seattle Times.
  41. ^ "Proclamation by the Governor 17–13" (PDF). Governor of Washington. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  42. ^ "Families being reunited with crash victims at DuPont City Hall". Seattle: KING-TV. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  43. ^ "Blood donations needed after Amtrak derailment". Q13 Fox News. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  44. ^ Shelbourne, Mallory (December 18, 2017). "Trump: Amtrak crash shows why we need infrastructure plan". The Hill. Retrieved December 18, 2017. In a second tweet 10 minutes later, Trump sent his condolences to people affected by the crash.
  45. ^ Woodward, Calvin. "AP Fact Check: Trump doesn't wait for facts in Amtrak crash". Associated Press.
  46. ^ The Editorial Board (December 24, 2017). "Opinion - The Amtrak Derailment Was Caused by a Collective Failure". The New York Times.
  47. ^ Gast, Phil; Simon, Darran (December 18, 2017). "The questions investigators will be asking after Amtrak derailment". CNN. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  48. ^ Glenn, Stacia; Robinson, Sean (December 19, 2017). "Amtrak engineer possibly distracted before speeding train derailed, officials say". News Tribune. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  49. ^ "Amtrak rail crash: Train was travelling at 80mph in 30mph zone". ITN. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  50. ^ Cohen, Stephen; Burton, Lynsi; DeMay, Daniel (December 18, 2017). "Train may have been well above speed limit before derailment". Seattle P-I. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  51. ^ "Pt. Defiance Bypass Project" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. March 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  52. ^ "NTSB Conducts Initial Review of Amtrak Train Recorders" (Press release). National Transportation Safety Board. December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 23, 2017. About six seconds prior to the derailment, the engineer made a comment regarding an over speed condition. The engineer's actions were consistent with the application of the locomotive's brakes just before the recording ended. It did not appear the engineer placed the brake handle in emergency-braking mode. The recording ended as the locomotive was tilting and the crew was bracing for impact. The final recorded speed of the locomotive was 78 mph.
  53. ^ "Preliminary Report Railroad Amtrak Passenger Train 501 Derailment DuPont, Washington December 18, 2017 RRD18MR001". National Transportation Safety Board. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  54. ^ Gutman, David (January 25, 2018). "NTSB report: Amtrak engineer missed speed-limit signs before train crashed south of Tacoma". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  55. ^ Lindblom, Mike (May 21, 2019). "NTSB 'amazed at the amount of failure' by agencies in fatal 2017 Amtrak derailment south of Tacoma". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 21, 2019.

External links[edit]