Tacoma Amtrak Derailment Investigation Begins

[Content Note: Train derailment; injury; death.]

At least three people were killed and around 100 injured, about a dozen of them seriously, in the Amtrak train derailment near Tacoma, Washington, yesterday. Now that everyone has been rescued, and the train wreckage cleared from the tracks and the road below, the federal investigation of what happened has begun in earnest. And the preliminary finding about the cause of the crash is that the train, on its maiden voyage, was traveling at 80mph in a 30mph zone.
During a late-night briefing with reporters, NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr added that Train 501 of Amtrak's Cascades service from Seattle headed south to Portland, Oregon, was carrying 80 passengers, three crew, and two service personnel.

She said it was "too early to tell" why the train was travelling at 80 mph.

...In a statement, Amtrak said it was "deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries" and working closely with victims and their families.

"There is a thorough investigation underway to determine what happened," the statement said. "The investigation will be conducted by [the National Transportation Safety Board], 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."

Earlier, an Amtrak official said the train was not using a technology called positive train control, which can prevent derailments caused by excessive speed.
There are several possible reasons for the excessive speed, the most obvious two being operator error or equipment malfunction. The investigation, of course, aims to find out the cause.

There is a great need for affordable rail travel in the United States, but it seems like this is a case study in working closely with communities and listening to their concerns as new lines are built:
Don Anderson, mayor of Lakewood, a city along the new route, said he was among many in the area concerned about the speed of the trains that would be traveling through their communities. He said he was part of an unsuccessful bid to stop the switch, or change it.

"Our community has been very concerned about the safety of this modification of the rail route for several years," Anderson told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

My condolences to the families, friends, colleagues, and communities of those who were killed. I hope the injured survivors have access to the resources they need to heal. Good thoughts for the NTSB investigators, who have a difficult and upsetting job ahead of them.

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