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Leaders warned of danger from new route before Amtrak derailment in Washington

Published: Monday, December 18, 2017 @ 3:16 PM
By: KIRO7.com

City leaders in Lakewood, South Sound residents and members of the media had warned that the Point Defiance Bypass route, on which numerous people were killed or injured when an Amtrak Cascades passenger train derailed Monday near Lacey, could lead to fatal accidents and traffic disruptions.

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Amtrak Cascades Train 501 derailed Monday morning during its inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass route. The train left the tracks on an Interstate 5 overpass in Pierce County, slamming into cars and throwing passengers and crew members. Authorities confirmed that multiple people were killed, but they declined to say how many by early Monday afternoon.

The editorial board of The News Tribune in Tacoma questioned in 2013 whether the new line, which shaved about 10 minutes off the Seattle-to-Portland route, was worth the threat to public safety.

>> Related: Here’s what the Amtrak engineer said in his call for help after the Washington derailment

“A train accident on tracks near I-5 easily could create backups stretching miles in both directions,” the editorial board wrote. “Is making the train ride to Portland 10 minutes quicker worth the threat to public safety and all the disruption it will create for thousands of drivers? Is the state really that desperate for federal rail funds?”

>> Related: Fatalities reported after train derails onto Interstate 5 in Washington

The new high-speed route takes trains inland and runs parallel to Interstate 5 through Tacoma, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Dupont, separating passenger trains from freight trains that continue to use a waterfront route. It’s the same route that Sound Transit uses for its Sounder commuter train, but that is not a high-speed train.

The News Tribune was not alone in its fear of what could happen.

>> Photos: Amtrak train derails in Washington

The city of Lakewood sued Amtrak to stop the rerouting, and Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson and some residents in the area have long voiced their concerns about the danger.

At a city meeting on Dec. 5, Anderson said he believed the trains were too close to traffic and pedestrians.

>> Related: A history of some of Amtrak's deadliest derailments

“Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens,” Anderson said at the city meeting.

Anderson also told local media that it would be only a matter of time before the high-speed trains kill someone.