Passenger train on new route derails in Washington state, killing at least 3

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

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."

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DUPONT, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 18: Emegency crews work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on December 18, 2017 in DuPont, Washington. At least six people were killed when a passenger train car plunged from the bridge. The derailment also closed southbound I-5. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
An Amtrak passenger train is seen derailed on a bridge over interstate highway (I-5) in this Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy WSDOT/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
The scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Washington State Trooper Brooke Bova briefs the media at the scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
The scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An Amtrak passenger train derailment over interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train derailment on interstate highway (I-5) in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An Amtrak passenger train derailment over interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An Amtrak passenger train is seen derailed on a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Tom James
First responders and investigators are seen near the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed on a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
First responders are at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
DUPONT, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 18: Law enforcement work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on December 18, 2017 in DuPont, Washington. At least six people were killed when a passenger train car plunged from the bridge. The derailment also closed southbound I-5. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Photos from scene of amtrak passenger train derailment https://t.co/gd09MzLCC6
NEW: NBC's @anblanx reports that there are multiple deaths and injuries following an Amtrak train derailment in Tac… https://t.co/wrgXvFiiOM
WSP diverting traffic at DuPont. WSP aiding withbroad closure & getting assistance to scene. https://t.co/fRw4uGNIVv
NEW: @CBSNews is hearing official word that there are casualties with potential fatalities in the @Amtrak train der… https://t.co/7s4RHGYyiN
Amtrak derailment in Washington State being treated as a mass-casualty scene. https://t.co/VabCii9zhn
Developing: Amtrak train derails near Seattle onto the I-5 freeway https://t.co/XfF79Hxdfj https://t.co/DCjgYtjPBp
First responders and investigators are seen near the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed on a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Tom James
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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 a.m. (1534 GMT) crash, train cars remained dangling from the overpass, with others strewn across Interstate 5, a major West Coast route stretching from the Canadian to Mexican borders.

"It was just a scene of chaos and piles of twisted metal," said Ted Danek, administrator for the city of Dupont who visited the site shortly after the derailment.

Some of the people aboard 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," Karnes said. "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."

The derailment occurred on the first day Amtrak trains began using the new inland route between the Washington cities of Tacoma and Olympia, part of a $181 million project to cut travel time, according to an October news release from the state's transportation department and Amtrak.

The rerouting takes trains along I-5, enabling them to reach speeds of 79 miles per hour (127 km per hour).

Monday's southbound Seattle-to-Portland train, whose scheduled departure time was 6 a.m. (1400 GMT), was the first to take the new route, which uses tracks owned by a commuter line.

It was not immediately clear whether the derailment was connected to the new route. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member told reporters it was too early to say what may have caused the crash.

A statement on Monday from the state transportation department said the track had undergone "weeks of inspection and testing" before Monday.

'CARS EVERYWHERE'

A train crew member told an emergency dispatcher 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.

Asked whether everyone was OK, the crew member replied, "I am still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway."

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.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the crash illustrated the need for infrastructure improvements.

The rerouting project was 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.

The mayor of a town along the new route warned early this month that high-speed trains were dangerously close to cars and pedestrians, according to Seattle's KOMO News.

The derailment was Amtrak's second in Washington state this year. On July 2, 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.

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 traveling 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.

(Reporting by Tom James in DuPont, Washington; Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Jonathan Allen, Gina Cherelus, Peter Szekely and Daniel Trotta in New York, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Californina; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

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