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NTSB: Preliminary indications are that Amtrak train that derailed was going 80 mph in 30 mph zone

SEATAC, Wash. — The National Transportation Safety Board said late Monday night that preliminary indications from derailed train’s data recorder is that the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone when it went off the tracks in Dupont, Wash.  At least three people were killed in the crash.

Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr was asked why the train was going so fast, and she responded, “It’s too early to tell.”

She said NTSB officers would be interviewing the engineer in the next day or so.

EARLIER TEXT:

In this story

  • At least 50 people were transported to hospitals
  • Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency
  • The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate

DUPONT, Wash. -- At least three people were killed Monday morning and dozens more were injured when an Amtrak train derailed south of Tacoma, leaving rail cars dangling from an overpass above Interstate 5.

At a Monday night briefing, the Washington State Patrol said 19 uninjured passengers were transported to the city of DuPont and 72 other people were transported to various hospitals for evaluation. Of those, Sgt. Dan Hall said, 10 were in serious condition, four had moderate injuries and nine had minor injuries.

Earlier in the day, the Associated Press reported six people were dead, but WSP trooper Brooke Bova said the agency had only confirmed three deaths as of 4 p.m. The confirmed death toll remained at 3 at 8 p.m.

The train derailed about 40 miles south of Seattle at 7:34 a.m. Monday, above a busy stretch of I-5 between Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Olympia.

All but one of the 14 rail cars came off the tracks, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova. The train fell from the overpass onto five cars and two semi trucks below on I-5. Nobody in those vehicles died.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department released these new photos of some of the damage.

Local blood centers were asking for donations, but the need was quickly met by dozens of local volunteers.

Southbound I-5 in DuPont was expected to be closed through at least Tuesday morning, according to WSDOT Tacoma Traffic. Traffic was being detoured to SR 16 north, then south on SR 3 to Shelton.

A U.S. official who was briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press preliminary signs indicate the Amtrak train may have struck something before going off the tracks. An Amtrak train also derailed in nearby Steilacoom in July.

Play the video below for more scenes from the derailment:

A frantic call for help

Emergency radio transmissions between the train and the dispatcher were frantic and dramatic:

Dispatcher: Hey guys, what happened?

AMTRAK 501: Uh, we were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north into Nisqually and we went on the ground.

Dispatcher: ...Is everybody OK?

AMTRAK 501: I'm still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.

A new route

Transitdocs.com, a website that maps Amtrak train locations and speeds using data from the railroad's train tracker app, says Train 501 was going 81.1 mph at its last reading before the derailment.

Sound Transit said the speed limit along the curve approaching the overpass  is 30 mph.

Board member Bella Dinn-Zarr told reporters in Washington, D.C., that it's too early to tell whether speed contributed to the accident.

On the map above, orange indicates the bypass, while green is the BNSF route along Puget Sound used by Amtrak Cascades trains through Dec. 17, 2017. Service via the bypass began on Dec. 18, 2017. The derailment of Train 501 occurred near the southern end of the bypass (close to where the green and orange lines join). Map: WSDOT.

The new route was designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that's bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.

The mayor of Lakewood, which is situated along the route, predicted a deadly crash. But Don Anderson thought it'd involve a fast-moving train hitting a car or pedestrian at a crossing.

Images and video from the scene showed an Amtrak train car hanging partway off an overpass bridge and resting on the highway.

The train was carrying passengers - including many transportation officials - set to embark on the first run of Amtrak's new route 501 from Seattle to Portland. There were 77 passengers and seven crew members aboard.

Click through a photo gallery below:

'Cars ... are hanging over the overpass'

Chris Karnes, the chair of Pierce Transit's advisory board, was on board the train and said on Twitter, "people are hurt."

"I'm not sure what got hit. I'm not sure what happened," Karnes said.

Karnes said he was positioned near the medical tents set up in the median between northbound and southbound I-5, just south of DuPont.

"The only car that is on the tracks is the rear locomotive. There are several cars that are hanging over the overpass," Karnes said.

Casey Bever lives near the crash, and drove past it Monday morning.

“It was the most emergency vehicles I’ve ever seen in my life,"  Bever said on Q13 News This Morning. "Forty to 50 (emergency) cars going by in a two-to-three-minute span."

Wendy Simmons said she arrived shortly after the derailment as people were helping the injured.

“First responders actually climbed up into the dangling cars to get people out,” Simmons said. "People were pulling first aid kits out of their cars -- putting jackets on people."

A list of recent Amtrak derailments

Amtrak released the following statement Monday evening:

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries due to the derailment of  Amtrak Cascades Train 501 south of Tacoma this morning.  

"Our first concern is taking care of everyone that was on board Train 501.  We have established a Passenger Reception Center to work closely with families of individuals on the train, as well as have established an Amtrak Incident Hotline. Families with questions about individuals on the train can contact 800-523-9101. We will do everything in our power to support these passengers, our employees and their families.  We are committed to taking care of them and providing the highest level of assistance possible during their time of need.

"There is a thorough investigation underway to determine what happened.  The investigation will be conducted by NTSB, and we will cooperate fully with all authorities. At this time, we will not speculate about the cause, and we encourage others not to speculate as well

"We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Washington State Patrol, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Pierce County EMA, American Red Cross, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and all responders and medical professionals for their assistance."

Search for loved ones

Amtrak set up a hotline for loved ones to call for more information: 800-523-9101.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova said a family reunification center had been set up at DuPont City Hall. Bova advised families NOT to go to the scene.

Facebook also set up a crisis response page for those in Western Washington to mark themselves safe. You can check it here.

Officials respond to 'tragic' crash

President Donald Trump had been briefed on the situation, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.

"Today’s tragic incident in Pierce County is a serious and ongoing emergency," said Gov. Jay Inslee. "Trudi and I are holding in our hearts everyone on board, and are praying for the many injured. They are our top priority, and I know first responders are doing everything to ensure everyone has the care they need."

Other Washington state politicians said they were heartbroken to hear the news.

“Following the derailment near Olympia closely," said Sen. Maria Cantwell. "Praying for everyone on board and affected by this. Thanks to our first responders."

“Heartbroken by the news coming out of WA right now," tweeted Sen. Patty Murray. "As my staff works to get more info, my thoughts are w/ everyone affected, including the 1st responders doing their best to keep people safe."

The USDOT Federal Railroad Administration said it was working with Amtrak and WSDOT, and that the agency had investigators headed to the scene.

We have a crew at the scene and will update this story as new information becomes available throughout the day.