“Amtrak 501, emergency, emergency, emergency, we are on the ground,” the conductor says.
The derailment occurred in DuPont, which is between Tacoma and Olympia. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office says there were fatalities and injuries, but the number of the dead and wounded is not yet known. The cause of the crash has not been determined. The derailment occurred on the first run of the Amtrak commuter train using a bypass through DuPont after the completion of a $180 million project to save time and add more trains between Seattle and Portland, according to the Washington Department of Transportation.
“We are on the bridge (inaudible) on the freeway,” the conductor told dispatchers. “We need EMS ASAP. It looks like they are already starting to show up.”
The dispatcher can then be heard asking, “Hey guys, what happened?”
The conductor responds, “We were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north of Nisqually and we went on the ground.”
When asked if everyone is OK, the conductor, whose name has not been released, responds, “I’m still figuring that out. We’ve got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.”
The conductor then tells the dispatcher that he has not found his engineer.
“We’re roughly mile post 21, it’s the bridge that goes over I-5,” the conductor said. “As soon as I know exactly where all my train is, I’ll let you know.”
The Washington DOT was celebrating the inaugural run of the new trains before the derailment. The debut of the new train line was highly anticipated. Local news crews were covering the departure of the first train.
“People can get where they’re going sooner, with more schedule choices and better reliability,” said Ron Pate, WSDOT Rail, Freight and Ports Division director, in a press release in October. According to the Washington DOT:
This permanent change to the Amtrak Cascades schedule means travel time between the two cities will be reduced by 10 minutes to 3 hours and 20 minutes, thanks to the rerouting of trains between Tacoma and Olympia and the upgrading of tracks and signal systems. The new route takes trains on an inland corridor parallel to Interstate 5 through Tacoma, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and DuPont. It eliminates a major chokepoint for passenger trains near Point Defiance in Tacoma and separates them from freight trains that will continue to use the old waterfront route. The results are shorter travel times and greater on-time reliability.
The DOT invested $800 million in the project.
“WSDOT worked closely with many partners over the last six years to prepare for these new schedules. Dec. 18 marks a major milestone for passenger rail service in the Pacific Northwest,” Pate said. “While the scenic beauty of the Point Defiance route can’t be denied, we know passengers will appreciate the ability to make easier, and more reliable, day trips between Seattle and Portland. Spectacular water views are still available for passengers between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.”
The DOT said the trains would be pulled by new Charger locomotives, leaving both Portland and Seattle every two to three hours. The first trains left Seattle at 6 a.m. and Portland at 6:20 a.m.
Alex Rozier, a reporter with KING-TV in Seattle was on the first train to leave on the new route, but got off before the crash, he said on Twitter. The DOT was handing out landyards to passengers to commemorate the launch.
Chris Karnes, the chairman of Pierce Transit’s advisory board, was tweeting live from the train before the derailment. He wrote, “Wow this train is fast. Once you leave Downtown Tacoma it’s 79mph to Portland. We are passing up traffic on I-5.”
“Tacoma to Dupont in roughly 15 minutes,” he said.
He then said, the train had derailed.
The cause of the derailment is not yet known.