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Officials: Amtrak train speeding 50 mph over limit before derailment

By Susan McFarland
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Officials: Amtrak train speeding 50 mph over limit before derailment
Amtrak 501 derails and falls from an overpass onto Interstate 5 in DuPont, Wash., on Monday -- killing at least three people. Photo by Washington State Patrol/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 19 (UPI) -- A data recorder from the Amtrak train that derailed south of Seattle on Monday reveals the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, officials confirmed.

The National Transportation Safety Board said during a news conference the train's speed and the posted speed limit will be considered as officials investigate why the train ran off the track, killing three and injuring about 100 people.

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The train was traveling 81.1 mph at the time of the derailment, according to Transitdocs.com, a company that maps train speeds. The passenger train speed limit of 79 mph drops to 30 mph right before the track curves to cross Interstate-5, which is the where the train derailed, according to a Washington State Department of Transportation chart.

Speed limit signs are posted 2 miles before the speed zone changes and just before the speed zone approaches the curve, according to an official with the Seattle-area transit agency that owns the tracks.

RELATED Multiple people dead after Amtrak train crash in Washington

Bella Dinh-Zarr, National Transportation Safety Board member, said it's unknown why the train derailed and it's too early to tell why it was going so fast.

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Prior to the crash, Lakewood, Wash., Mayor Don Anderson had voiced concerns about the safety of a high-speed train through Pierce County. The route the derailed train took was new, a quicker connection between Seattle and Portland, Ore. It used an existing freight line through the county, but the rails had been replaced.

"I didn't predict a time, but I did say somebody is going to get killed," Anderson told The Seattle Times on Monday. "I hoped that wasn't right."

RELATED Two killed by Amtrak train in Washington, D.C.

He said he was concerned about the number of street-level railroad crossings.

"The principal risk we identified was actually the number of crossings and the lack of familiarity people had in the area with trains," Anderson said. "We thought a train-vehicle collision was virtually inevitable."

Amtrak 501 was traveling from Seattle to Portland on Monday morning when it derailed in DuPont, Wash. One car was left dangling from the overpass and one crashed onto busy Interstate 5 below. At least five motor vehicles were struck in the crash.

RELATED Amtrak train derails at New York City's Penn Station

Among the dead were Zack Willhoite, a Pierce Transit employee who worked in IT customer support and was described as a "rail aficionado."

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"Our thoughts are with Zack's family, as well as the families of the other victims, during this very difficult time," Pierce Transit said.

Names of the other victims have not been released.

An Amtrak official said the train was not using positive train control, a mechanism that can prevent train derailments caused by excessive speed.

DuPont Fire Chief Larry Creekmore confirmed three people died and more than 100 were transported to local hospitals.

Trooper Brooke Bova, spokeswoman for Washington State Patrol, said there were two engines and 12 cars in the train, and a total of 13 derailed.

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