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Three Killed,100 Injured in Train Mishap at Launch in Seattle, US

Officials said 77 passengers and seven crew were aboard.

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An Amtrak train derailed on Monday, 18 December during its inaugural run on a faster route from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, USA, sending passenger cars tumbling from a bridge onto a major highway, killing at least three people and injuring about 100 others.

The passenger train that derailed in Washington state was traveling 80 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone, transport investigators said.

Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told journalists "it's too early to tell" why the train was travelling at such a fast speed, an estimate that came from preliminary information obtained from an event data recorder in the rear locomotive. Federal investigators would be on the scene for a full day Tuesday, she said, kicking off a probe into the incident that would likely last seven to 10 days.

Information obtained from the front locomotive's data recorder, which has been more difficult to access, would potentially lend more insight into the train's exact speed, according to Dinh-Zarr.

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Thirteen of the train's 14 cars jumped the tracks near the town of DuPont, Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Brooke Bova said. Officials said 77 passengers and seven crew were aboard.

Five vehicles and two trucks were involved in the accident, and the highway was littered with fragments of the bridge and tree branches. Some motorists were injured but none died, authorities said.

"We have been told there are three casualties at this time," Bova told a news conference, adding about 100 people were transported to area hospitals. "There are a lot of critical injuries."

She said all of the train cars have been searched, and emergency efforts would likely extend through the night and into the morning.

Several hours after the 7:34 am (local time) crash, train cars remained dangling from the overpass, with others strewn across Interstate 5, a major West Coast route stretching from Canadian to Mexican borders.

Some people escaped by kicking out windows, passenger Chris Karnes told local news outlet KIRO 7.

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.
Chris Karnes, Passenger

The derailment occurred on the first day Amtrak trains began using the new inland route between the cities of Tacoma and Olympia, part of a project to reduce travel time, according to an October news release from the state's transportation department.

The rerouting takes trains along I-5, eliminating a major choke point for passenger trains in Tacoma and letting trains reach speeds of 127 km per hour, the department has said.

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Monday’s southbound train, which was scheduled to depart Seattle at 6 am for Portland, Oregon, was the first to run along the new route, which uses tracks owned by a local commuter line.

'Cars Everywhere'

A train crew member told an emergency dispatcher that the train came around a corner before the bridge and then "we went on the ground," according to an audio recording posted by Broadcastify.com.

When asked whether everyone was alright, the crew member replied, "I am still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway." The dispatcher also requested the caller's location, and he responded, "As soon as I know exactly where all of my train is, I'll let you know."

Amtrak’s co-chief executive, Richard Anderson, declined to speculate on the cause while speaking to reporters on Monday. He confirmed that positive train control (PTC), a system that automatically slows trains if they are going too fast, was not installed on the tracks.

By law, PTC must be installed on all passenger rail systems by 2018, a deadline that has repeatedly been delayed after rail agencies said implementation was more complicated than anticipated. Sound Transit commuter line, which owns the track, reported in September that it did not yet have PTC in operation.

US President Donald Trump said the crash illustrated the need for infrastructure improvements. The rerouting project was budgeted at $180.7 million and funded by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), according to the state transportation department. The work was done by Sound Transit and reviewed by the FRA, the department said on Monday.

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I-5 is the West Coast's major north-south highway, running between the US-Mexican border in San Diego, California, and the border with Canada in Washington.

The mayor of a town along the new route warned early this month that 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, according to Seattle's KOMO News.

The derailment was Amtrak's second in Washington state this year. On 2 July, a southbound train with more than 250 people aboard derailed in the town of Steilacoom, just a few miles north of Monday's derailment. No serious injuries were reported.

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In May 2015, an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. The NTSB concluded the driver became distracted by radio transmissions and lost track of where he was.

An Amtrak train travelling from New York in April 2016 hit a backhoe working on railroad tracks in Chester, Pennsylvania, killing two maintenance workers and injuring 41.

That crash prompted criticism from the NTSB about Amtrak's safety record. Amtrak said last month that it had made numerous reforms.

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(With inputs from PTI)

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