Amtrak train travelling almost three times speed limit before fatal crash

The scene where an Amtrak passenger train that was above speed limit derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, December 18, 2017. (REUTERS/Steve Dipaola)

An Amtrak train derailed from its tracks on a new route between Seattle and Portland this Monday, killing three people and injuring over a hundred others. Investigation notes say that the train was travelling at almost three times the speed limit when the tragic incident happened.

The Amtrak Cascades 501 passenger train was carrying 86 people, including its crew, and was on its first journey on a brand new route between the two northwest cities when it met the tragedy. When the train derailed, it hurled passenger cars off an overpass onto an interstate highway where rush hour traffic was passing through.

The investigation has revealed that the train was travelling at 80 miles per hour when the disaster occurred. While most of the train’s route was graded for a speed limit of 79 miles per hour, the specific curve where the derailment occurred had a speed limit of only 30 miles per hour. Authorities have yet to uncover the reason why the train was moving so fast despite the speed limit.

Investigators also found that positive train control (PTC), the technology that automatically slows down and stops a speeding train, was not activated. Had the PTC been activated, the tragedy could have been averted.

“We have recommended PTC for decades,” National Transportation Safety Board member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr said Tuesday. “Unfortunately the deadline was moved farther into the future, and every year that we wait to implement PTC to its fullest extent means that more people will be killed and injured.”

Two of the three fatalities in the crash were train enthusiasts who wanted to experience the maiden journey in the new route. Zack Willhoite, 35, and Jim Hamre, 61, were both active in rail advocacy organization All Aboard Washington, with Willhoite serving as director of information technology and Hamre as vice president and newsletter editor.