Southbound I-5 now open, after Amtrak crash sent rail cars plunging onto highway

DUPONT, Wash. -- All lanes of southbound I-5 at DuPont were opened Wednesday, two days after an Amtrak train derailed on an overpass and sent rail cars plunging down onto the highway.

The third and final lane of I-5 in that area was reopened at about 9:25 p.m. Wednesday. The first two lanes were opened earlier in the day, at about 4:25 p.m. Wednesday.

“It took a highly-coordinated effort with several agencies during the initial emergency and recovery to reopen the highway after this terrible tragedy,” said WSDOT Regional Administrator John Wynands. “We appreciate the patience of people in the nearby communities and users of the road while crews worked to ensure this stretch of I-5 is safe for the traveling public.”

Southbound I-5 had been closed down since Monday, when a Seattle-to-Portland Amtrak train derailed over a highway bridge near DuPont, sending several rail cars crashing down to I-5. Three people in the train were killed and dozens were injured.

Transportation crews on Wednesday morning began moving a damaged 270,000-pound locomotive off of a busy freeway toward Joint Base Lewis-McChord where investigators will take a closer look at it.

The train in Monday's crash near DuPont, Washington was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone when it raced off the rails as they curved toward a bridge, hurtling train cars onto a highway below, investigators said. Three people were killed, and dozens were injured. Federal investigators say they are looking into whether the engineer was distracted.

In a news conference Wednesday morning, officials said the sheer weight of the train's engine made it difficult to move. Crews brought in a massive reinforced tractor trailer overnight from Oregon.

Capt. Dan Hall of the Washington State Patrol said crews moved the locomotive out from underneath the trestle and carried it off on a tractor-trailer to JBLM.

The investigation continues

On Tuesday, National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said preliminary information indicated the train's emergency brake went off automatically and was not manually activated by the engineer. That could mean he did not realize the danger.

The train, with 85 passengers and crew members, was making the inaugural run along a fast, new 15-mile bypass route. Investigators are looking into what training was required of the engineer and other crew members to operate on the new stretch of track, said Ted Turpin, the lead NTSB investigator of the crash.

Investigators in Monday's accident also confirmed that technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train, known as positive train control, was not in use on that stretch of track. Track sensors and other PTC components have been installed, but the system is not expected to be completed until the spring.

Regulators have been pressing railroads for years to install such technology, and some have done so, but the deadline has been extended repeatedly at the industry's request and is now set for the end of 2018.

Dinh-Zarr said it is too early in the investigation to say whether positive train control would have prevented Monday's tragedy but noted that a mandate to install the system on tracks nationwide by 2015 had been pushed back by Congress.

Dinh-Zarr said preliminary findings are that the train was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone entering the curve. Dinh-Zarr also said the engineer did not manually activate the emergency brake, which went off automatically when the train derailed.

A conductor in training who was familiarizing himself with the new route was in the locomotive with the engineer at the time. A federal official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that authorities want to know whether the engineer lost "situational awareness" — didn't realize where he was.

Investigators had not yet interviewed the train engineer and other crew members — all of whom were hospitalized — as of Wednesday morning, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said. Experts say investigators will want to talk to them as soon as possible while the event is still fresh in their memory.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that Amtrak President Richard Anderson told him the rail company would pay the costs of the derailment as well as the medical and other expenses of the victims. He also said Anderson would try to ensure a technology can automatically slow or stop a speeding train — known as positive train control — was in place statewide before a Dec. 31, 2018 federal deadline.

That technology was not in use on the stretch of track involved in Monday's crash.

Regulators have been pressing railroads for years to install such technology, and some have done so, but the deadline has been extended repeatedly at the industry's request.