An Amtrak train derailed in Washington state on Monday (Dec. 18) while taking its inaugural trip from Seattle to Portland. Several cars jumped the track of the new high-speed route and hit Interstate 5 outside of Tacoma, crushing cars on the highway. Three of the train’s passengers have died, and 72 individuals were sent to the hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what caused the derailment. But years ago, the mayor of Lakewood, Washington raised alarms over the safety of the high-speed service; earlier this month, he also predicted deadly accidents.
Mayor Don Anderson told the Seattle Times on Monday that his city had long objected to the new rail line, and in particular to the at-grade railroad crossings along the new route, which it contended had not received sufficient upgrades to operate safely. Given the unfamiliarity locals had with high-speed trains in the area, “we thought a train-vehicle collision was virtually inevitable,” Anderson said.
In 2013, Lakewood sued the Washington State Department of Transportation, seeking to halt development of the route—part of an $800 million transportation project—under the pretense that it had not undergone sufficient environmental review. The case was dismissed in 2014, in part because cities and towns are not legally allowed to regulate rail lines, said Anderson. After pressing once more for funding for safety enhancements, Lakewood received some concessions to improve the crossings and add fencing along the line.
Anderson still didn’t think it was enough, and on Dec. 4 of this year, local Seattle outlet Komo News reported him giving a prescient response to the imminent rail route opening: “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements,” he said.
“I didn’t predict a time, but I did say somebody is going to get killed,” Anderson told the Seattle Times Monday. “I hoped that wasn’t right.”
Correction: The number of reported deaths and hospitalizations has been updated from initial media reports to the official count.