Crew onboard the Amtrak train that plunged off an overpass killing at least three people will be quizzed, say authorities.
Bella Dinh-Zarr, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said that the data recorder in the rear locomotive showed the train was going 80mph in a 30mph zone when it derailed along a curve, spilling some of its cars onto an interstate highway in Washington, around 40 miles south of Seattle.
It is not yet known what caused the train to run off the rails and too early to say why it was going so fast, said Dinh-Zarr.
She said investigators will talk to the engineer and other crew members. In previous wrecks, investigators looked at whether the engineer was distracted or disabled.
The engineer, whose name was not released, was bleeding from the head after the wreck, and both eyes were swollen shut, according to dispatch audio.
The train, with 85 passengers and crew members, was making the inaugural run along a fast new bypass route that was created by refurbishing freight tracks alongside Interstate 5.
The 15-mile, $180.7 million project was aimed at speeding up service by bypassing a route with a number of curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.
Positive train control — technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train — wasn’t in use on this stretch of track, according to Amtrak President Richard Anderson.
Regulators have been pressing railroads for years to install such technology, but the deadline has been extended repeatedly at the industry’s request and is now the end of 2018.
The 7.34am accident left mangled train cars up on top of each other, with one hanging precariously over the freeway. The screech and clang of metal were followed by silence, then screams, as the injured cried out to rescuers and motorists pulled over and rushed to help.
More than 70 people were injured, ten of them seriously.
Train passenger Emma Shafer found herself at a 45-degree angle, staring at the seats in front of her that had come loose and swung around.
‘It felt oddly silent after the actual crashing,’ she said. ‘Then there was people screaming because their leg was messed up… I don’t know if I actually heard the sirens, but they were there. A guy was like, “hey, I’m Robert. We’ll get you out of here”.’
One of the dead has been identified as Zack Willhoite, a customer service employee at a local transit agency and a railroad buff excited to be on the first passenger run of the new route. He was a member of All Aboard Washington, an organization of rail advocates.
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