December 21, 2017 / 2:51 AM / 9 months ago

Washington state highway reopens after deadly Amtrak derailment

(Reuters) - A major West Coast highway reopened on Wednesday after workers spent two days clearing the wreckage from an Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state while speeding onto a bridge, state transportation officials said.

Rescue personnel and equipment are seen working into darkness at the scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

Crews had carted off the biggest chunk by the afternoon: the 270,000-pound (122,470-kg) locomotive involved in the Monday morning rush-hour crash in the city of Dupont, which killed three people and sent another 100 to hospitals.

The affected southbound stretch of Interstate 5, which runs from the Canadian border to Mexico, opened on Wednesday afternoon, the Washington State Department of Transportation said. There was a gouge in a road shoulder from where a train carriage slammed into the surface and guard rails were crushed but the roadway surface did not suffer any major damage, officials said.

Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are seeking answers about the crash’s cause in interviews with the train’s engineer and a trainee conductor who were in the locomotive’s cab.

NTSB members say they are focused on whether the engineer was distracted, but are timing their interviews with the crew this week around their recuperation from injuries. Investigators are also examining the wrecked train cars, which have been taken to a nearby U.S. military base.

A damaged Amtrak passenger train car sits on a flatbed truck after being lifted from the tracks at the site of the derailment of Amtrak train 501 in Dupont, Washington, U.S., December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas James

The accident occurred during the train’s inaugural run on a new, slightly quicker route between Olympia and Tacoma, with 86 people aboard, 80 of them passengers, Amtrak said. It was traveling at 80 miles per hour (129 km per hour), more than twice the speed limit for the curved portion of track leading to the bridge.

NTSB investigators have found that the train’s emergency brakes were automatically activated during the derailment rather than being engaged manually by the engineer.

They also said a safety system known as positive train control, which automatically slows trains if they go too fast, was not installed on the rail line. Congress had extended a mandatory deadline for having the system installed on all passenger railways to 2018.

The derailment placed Amtrak, the country’s main passenger rail service, under renewed scrutiny following a series of fatal incidents.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the third victim on Wednesday as Benjamin Gran, 40, of Auburn, Washington.

The other two people killed were Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, transit enthusiasts who wanted to ride the inaugural run along the new route.

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Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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