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Train Derailment in Pierce County Kills Three

Austin Jenkins/Northwest News Network

Three people died Monday morning when an Amtrak train traveling from Seattle to Portland derailed as it approached an overpass over Interstate 5, south of Tacoma.

Another 100 people, including some in cars below, were transported for medical care.

Authorities says the train contained 12 cars and two engines. Thirteen of them derailed. One fell onto the freeway; two others were hanging from the overpass.

Jay Sumerlin, a battalion chief from the West Pierce County Fire Department, says that made the rescue operation difficult.

“It took a lot of extrication tools. It wasn’t easy for the firefighters to get through. They were using jaws of life. They were using air chisels and different forms of saws to be able to get into some of the crushed cars to get access to people and get them out. Some of the rescues were done by ladders. It was just a difficult place to be,” Sumerlin said.

The southbound lanes of I-5 are still closed. Traffic is open northbound.

Southbound vehicles have bee routed through Joint Base Lewis-McChord so that cars can access other routes.

The National Transportation Safety Board has a team on the scene. Seventy-seven passengers and seven crew members were aboard the train at the time of the accident.

Governor Jay Inslee visited the scene to talk with accident victims and offer moral support.

“There was a man whose passport is on the train going to England. We want to make sure we can get him home. I assured we’ll take care of that. I spoke to two people who wanted to be on this first run, who are train enthusiasts. I’ll just share what he said. He said, you know, I still believe in fast trains and he actually thanked me for trying to build a fast train. It was kind of a random comment.”

Inslee says the president of Amtrak assured him that the railroad "will do everything humanly possible, both to take care of the families involved in this tragedy and to move forward with the work we have to do to assure safety in the future and to find out what happened in this incident.”

The Amtrak train left Seattle around 6 am. It was making its first run on an inland route in an effort to move traffic more quickly. The accident occurred at about 7:30, just south of Tacoma.

That section of track had recently been upgraded. The new route was designed to move faster through the south Sound by bypassing Point Defiance.

Officials in the town of Lakewood, near Tacoma, had warned the new route was dangerous. They sued to try to get it rerouted, but lost in court.

"It is an issue that the city of Lakewood was adamently opposed to in order for the train to save six minutes of travel time," says Lakewood Councilman John Simpson.

Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, owns the track and oversaw construction of the upgrades. Agency spokeswoman Kimberly Reason says extensive testing was done on the new tracks.