First Amtrak run on new route ends in derailment, death

The inaugural trip of Amtrak Cascades train service between Tacoma and Portland ended in tragedy when the train derailed from tracks at Mounts Road in the Nisqually Delta area, sending train cars onto Interstate 5. Photo courtesy of WSDOT

The fatal derailment of Amtrak’s Cascades run south from Tacoma to Portland on Monday left three people dead and sent dozens of people to area hospitals as well as turned southbound traffic on Interstate 5 into a parking lot for days as state and national investigators began to piece together how the tragedy happened.

The 100 injured passengers were rushed to area hospitals, including Madigan Army Medical Center for treatment. Three passengers are confirmed dead. Photo courtesy of Madigan Army Medical Hospital

What is known is that the 14-car train jumped the tracks crossing I-5 at Mounts Road at the Thurston-Pierce County line on Monday morning. Several of the train cars spilled off the rail bridge crossing and tumbled onto I-5 below. The Amtrak Cascades 501 was carrying about 80 passengers and seven crew members when it derailed around 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Initial investigations suggest the train was traveling about 80 miles per hour, more than double the posted 30-mile-per-hour limit. Injured passengers were rushed to area hospitals, namely Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, Tacoma General and Allenmore hospitals as well as Madigan Army Medical Center, which is a Level II trauma center and partner in the Tacoma Trauma Trust to treat civilian patients during emergencies and disasters.

Photo courtesy of Madigan Army Medical Hospital

The train was the first trip on the upgraded tracks that allowed passenger trains to use a dedicated set of tracks instead of the waterfront route that passenger trains had shared with freight trains. The shift was meant to shave off about 10 minutes from the Tacoma-to-Portland train trip by allowing passenger trains to travel at faster speeds as well as avoid delays caused by conflicts with cargo trains.

The Amtrak Cascades train service is jointly owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor, and is responsible for day-to-day operations.  The Point Defiance Bypass Project rerouted passenger trains to a 15-mile inland rail line along the west side of Interstate 5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont that is partially used for Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood. The trains will then rejoin the coastal tracks around the Nisqually Delta, about a mile past where the accident occurred. Future Amtrak runs to Portland will return to the former waterfront tracks until further notice.

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