The Amtrak train that derailed and crashed onto a Washington state highway Monday was going nearly three times the speed limit, officials said.
The curved overpass where Amtrak's new high-speed route crosses Interstate 5 near DuPont, Washington, roughly 80 kilometres southwest of Seattle, has a speed limit of 48 km/h. But federal investigators said late Monday that the train was traveling at 128 km/h in that area before it derailed, killing at least three people and injuring dozens.
Officials said they didn't know why the train was going so fast, and said it was "too early" to tell what caused the crash, which sent Amtrak Cascades Train 501 hurtling off the overpass around 7:40 a.m. Monday, smashing into vehicles traveling on highway below. No motorists were killed, officials said.
The train was making its inaugural run on a rebuilt passenger corridor between Seattle and Portland, Oregon. As part of this service, trains were approved to reach speeds up to 127 km/h.
Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told reporters Monday that positive train control, automated safety technology designed to slow trains going too fast, was not activated at the time of the derailment. It's unclear whether the technology had been installed on the rail line.
After a 2008 crash in California, a new law required trains across the country to install the technology by the end of 2015. But as the deadline approached, Congress extended it until the end of 2018 after freight and commuter railroads complained about the difficulty of converting to the new system.
Democratic lawmakers have contended positive train control technology could have prevented several deadly train crashes, including the 2015 Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia and a New Jersey Transit crash in September 2016.
Monday's derailment followed months of heated debate over the new Amtrak service in Washington and Oregon. The mayor of a town along the route recently expressed concern over having a high-speed train running through an urban area, particularly the dangers at highways and crossings.
"Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements," Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told state Department of Transportation officials in early December. "This project was never needed and endangers our citizens."