Early indications suggest a train that derailed Monday morning near Dupont, Washington, killing several people, was traveling about 50 miles over the speed limit on the stretch of track where it crashed. If that proves correct, it will be the latest example of delayed implementation of a safety failsafe in the United States leading to a fatal train wreck.
The Amtrak Cascades train was traveling from Seattle to Portland, traveling a brand-new, faster route, when it jumped the rails south of Tacoma, sending cars careening off the tracks and off an overpass over Interstate 5, where it struck several vehicles. There’s still no confirmed death toll from the wreck. But the National Transportation Safety Board said late Monday night that the train was traveling 80 miles per hour, close to the 79 mph limit on the run, citing the train’s data recorder. The train was supposed to slow to 30 miles per hour as it curved over the highway.
Amtrak argued that any such judgments are too hasty. “It’s being investigated by the NTSB and anything beyond that, until their findings are out, is pure speculation,” Gary Banks Olson, assistant superintendent of operations, told the Seattle Times.
But while it is true that the NTSB’s full investigation will probably take months to complete, the cause of a wreck is often quickly clear from the data recorder, which is similar to those used in airplanes. Train-safety experts who examined photos and footage of the crash said that the arrangement of the cars—including the direction of one locomotive that left the tracks, and jackknifed cars on the overpass—suggested the train had been moving too fast headed into the curve. (The train had locomotives at both ends, a common configuration.)