TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Deaths and injuries were reported after the train derailed on a bridge overlooking a stretch of interstate 5, a major highway, near DuPont, blocking off southbound traffic during the morning commute and marshalling a mass response from first responders.
A total of 77 people were being transported to local hospitals for treatment, a spokesman for healthcare network CHI Franciscan Health said.
“When we got to the scene it was obvious that there were some fatalities and there were a lot of injuries, and some people were able to get off the train,” Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters.
Among the injured were motorists who had been struck by the derailed cars, none of whom were killed, Troyer said.
“Multiple cars and trucks were struck by train cars that left the train tracks and went down onto the road.
The people that were in the vehicles, even though when you see the pictures it’s pretty horrific, at this point nobody in any of the vehicles is a fatal. The fatals are all contained to the train,” he said.
Amtrak said in a statement that approximately 78 passengers and 5 crew members were on board the train.
In images shared by authorities, a train car can be seen teetering off of the tracks and protruding into the highway.
The Washington State Department of Transportation noted that all southbound lanes were blocked and urged commuters to avoid the area, warning that long delays awaited drivers even on alternate routes.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal entity responsible for investigating such accidents, said on Twitter that it was still gathering information.
Washington Gov Jay Inslee offered a message of support to first responders and urged commuters to avoid the area.
“This is an ongoing and serious situation,” Inslee said on Twitter.
Passenger Chris Karnes described a frantic scramble to get off the stricken train, telling KIRO 7 that people kicked out windows after discovering emergency doors weren’t functioning.
“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill,” Karnes told 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”.
The train is believed to be the Cascades passenger train number 501, which left Seattle at 7.25 am local time and was due in Portland, Oregon at 11.05 am. Two new trains a day were scheduled to begin running on that line on the same day the derailment occurred, according to a Washington Department of Transportation press release. In that release, an official touted “more schedule choices and better reliability”.
On a Monday morning, it is likely to have been busy with business travelers as well as leisure passengers. Like most US long-distance trains, fares are heavily subsidized: the 200-mile trip costs as little as $26 one way, around £20, so increasingly many people use the train as an alternative to driving or flying, taking advantage of the scenic landscape.
The line of the Cascades is part of the key west coast long-distance rail artery, a route between Vancouver in Canada and San Diego on the Mexican border. While there are six trains a day scheduled each way between Seattle and Portland, the main users of US railroads are freight trains.
The US rail network sees far more accidents than European railways. In the US, there have been 10, with dozens of passengers losing their lives over last 10 years.