The maiden trip of the new Point Defiance Bypass high-speed rail met with a tragic end Monday as the train derailed off of a trestle bridge and landed onto the “most important” stretch of the Interstate 5 freeway in DuPont, Washington during early morning rush-hour traffic. At the time of this article, there were six fatalities and 40-plus injured. Shortly after the catastrophe, President Donald Trump took to Twitter and rallied for better infrastructure to prevent these kinds of disasters.
The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2017
Whether infrastructure had a hand in this train derailment is yet to be determined. However, Seattle Times reported that Janet Matkin, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said the old overpass where the railcars derailed was outfitted with all new rails.
Liberty Nation reached out to Rachelle Cunningham, the point of contact person for WSDOT on Monday, and while Cunningham said they did not have an official statement or press release to offer yet, she confirmed that Sound Transit owns the track.
“The bridge had been worked on to be able to accommodate the new route,” she said, but as for other aspects of the infrastructure, “We’re not speculating on any cause” at the moment.
“Washington state is one of the few regions investing heavily in passenger rail,” wrote the Seattle Times. “The passenger-rail retrofit was approved by regional voters in the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure of 2008, and by WSDOT’s rail division. Funding included stimulus money from the Obama administration, which sought to create faster rail across the U.S. Some states ignored or rejected federal aid, but Washington state ended up with about $800 million.”
“From Lakewood [city], the new route takes only Amtrak trains south along Interstate 5 on completely rebuilt rails, track bed and crossings,” The Olympian reported.“However, the trestle and concrete abutments where the derailment occurred were decades old.”
Part of the retrofit for the new high-speed rail project included control equipment which is supposed to stop trains before a collision happens and limit unsafe movements. It is not known whether these safety controls were activated at the time of the derailment.
According to Time: “The Trump Administration already has submitted an infrastructure plan as part of its 2018 budget proposal — and it proposes deep cuts to the nation’s rail systems.”
In May, The Washington Post detailed the president’s infrastructure plan and how it would affect railways:
The $16.2 billion budget for discretionary transportation spending represents a nearly 13 percent reduction in transportation spending over fiscal 2017. That includes a $928 million cut from transit construction grants, nearly half of what Congress recently appropriated for this fiscal year, and a $630 million reduction in subsidies for long-distance Amtrak routes.
Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, told The Washington Post: “I’m just looking at the smoking wreckage,” when he was asked about what he saw in the budget.
Whether or not President Trump’s infrastructure budget is good for the railways, he spoke too soon on the Washington State derailment disaster. In fact, the president was, as usual, quick to point out how “this” is why we need whatever plan he’s pushing before the cause of the collision is known, and before he made any kind of sympathetic or supporting statement to those who were hurt and their loved ones. While he did tweet out a message a few minutes later to first responders, victims and their families, he has caused an uproar from those who feel he puts his political needs and wants before the American people.
The Cascades 501 train has a capacity of approximately 400 seats. There were 77 passengers taking the inaugural trip. The high-speed train was approved to reach a maximum speed of 79 MPH, but there have been several reports that the train was traveling at 81 MPH.
Out of the 14 rail cars, 13 left the track, and 12 of those were passenger cars. Some of the cars derailed into the woods, requiring first responders to use chainsaws to try and extract passengers and cars from thick tree branches and foliage.
While an old trestle bridge may indicate that infrastructure could play a part in the derailment, many passengers said the train seemed to be traveling too fast when it reached the curve. Cunningham told Liberty Nation that the speed limit for the curve where the train derailed was 30 MPH.
Whether the cause turns out to be from excessive speed, human error, mechanical issues or a problem with the infrastructure, this is the time for the president to be focusing on resolving issues and ensuring safety.
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