Deaths reported after major train derailment in Washington state | News | DW | 18.12.2017
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Deaths reported after major train derailment in Washington state

At least three people have been confirmed dead after a train derailment in the US state of Washington. Excessive speed appears to have contributed to the accident, which happened on the inaugural run of a new route.

A new high-speed passenger train on its maiden run in Washington state was speeding when it jumped the track, plunged onto a highway and killed at least three people during a Monday morning commute at around 7:30 a.m. (15:30 GMT/UTC).

The train was travelling more than 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour), just a quarter of a mile (400 meters) before a curve where the speed limit drops to 30 miles per hour. The exact speed of the train has not been reported.

Washington state officials said at least three people had been killed when the Amtrak passenger train derailed during its inaugural run. Earlier reports of three additional deaths have not been confirmed. Of the 83 passengers and crew confirmed onboard by Amtrak, at least 50 were brought to nearby hospitals, according to local health officials.

At least two people were in critical condition and 11 others seriously injured, according to hospital officials.

'People were screaming'

Several cars on Interstate 5 were struck when the train hurtled onto the roadway, but none of the motorists were killed.

"All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill," passenger Chris Karnes told Seattle news outlet KIRO 7.

"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."

Karnes said people had escaped the wreckage by kicking out windows.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee thanked rescue workers on Twitter.

President Donald Trump also took to the messaging service to offer his condolences to the victims and their families, but soon politicized the tragedy by pressing for improved infrastructure in the country.

Previous safety warnings

The train had been traveling along a new route connecting the cities of Tacoma and Olympia, part of a bigger $180-million (€152-million) project intended to reduce travel times. The project had met with considerable local opposition over safety concerns, with opponents fearing accidents at multiple level crossing points with vehicular traffic.

"These are new, upgraded tracks — that's what is so surprising about this," John Niles with the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives told The Associated Press. "They weren't worried about a train derailing." His group had joined local elected officials in opposing the project.

Earlier this month, Don Anderson, the mayor of the town of Lakewood, which lies along the new route, had warned that rails were dangerously close to highways and pedestrian crossings.

"Come back when there is that accident and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens," he told a local news outlet earlier this month, referring to the road crossing barriers.

bik, es/cmk (Reuters, AP)