Today, December 18th 2017, started out as a day of celebration for the first runs of the Amtrak Cascades and the Starlight on the recently finished Lakewood Sub. Instead, it was a day of tragedy.
About 20 minutes after departing the new Tacoma Dome Passenger station, a 25 minute late Cascades 501 derailed on to Interstate 5 at the point where the railroad crosses the median separated freeway on two bridges.
Most of the 78 passengers and crew were injured and 3 people perished, all railfans. I had 3 friends as passengers, in addition to the engineer. It took some time but eventually I was informed that all of my friends survived, but were hospitalized with pretty serious injuries. It should be noted, there were two people in the cab. Both survived and were taken to local hospitals.
The lead locomotive, WDTX 1402, a new WSDOT Charger, ended up on the southbound lanes of I-5, after plowing through a stand of trees. Several vehicles were damaged but there were no fatalities on the freeway. It appears 6 to 8 of the 12 cars followed the locomotive in to the trees and down on to I-5 and several were accordioned on and off the bridge over I-5. The trailing unit, AMTK 181 (P42) remained on the rails, the only part of the train to do so.
The derailment occurred at point were a 30 mile permanent speed restriction begins, a reduction of the 79 mph max speed for the previous 9 miles.
You may have heard reports of the train hitting an obstruction or being sabotaged. Both appear unlikely from my time spent at the scene, but I’m not an expert and the investigation has only just started.
Hearing the conductor make his emergency call was very scary, made worse by the knowledge of all the people I knew on board. Please keep the crew, passengers and loved ones of those affected in your prayers.
Please keep any comments positive and avoid speculation on the cause. Lets wait until the investigation is complete.