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High speed caused Amtrak derailment in Steilacoom

Crews remove derailed Amtrak train from Chambers Bay causeway

Crews put a derailed Amtrak locomotive back on the tracks in Steilacoom next to the bridge over Chambers Creek and tow it away.
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Crews put a derailed Amtrak locomotive back on the tracks in Steilacoom next to the bridge over Chambers Creek and tow it away.

An engineer was driving an Amtrak passenger train too fast Sunday through Steilacoom and caused it to derail as it headed north, officials said Thursday.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said an investigation found that the train failed to slow down to the 40 miles per hour speed limit while approaching the Chambers Bay drawbridge.

The span, built in 1914 and using a cable-free design, crosses Chambers Creek next to a boat marina. Just ahead lies the Chambers Bay golf course, site of the 2015 U.S. Open tournament.

On either side are compact, switchlike devices known as “derails” between the twin rails

The train’s excessive speed activated the derails, which are designed to avoid a catastrophe if the drawbridge is open as a train approaches, she said.

That sent the locomotive and baggage car and four passenger cars off the track, she said. Eight passenger cars and the rear locomotive remained upright on the tracks.

Some of the 267 passengers suffered minor injuries in the derailment. Some of the injured were treated at a local hospital and released.

After investigators determined the derailment was caused by human error, the train’s engineer was suspended, Graham said.

“The safety of our passengers and employees remains our number one priority,” she said.

BNSF Railroad, which owns the tracks, declined to comment on the investigation's findings, spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Once the damaged cars were moved off the tracks, Amtrak and BNSF resumed operations.

The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the crash alongside Amtrak and BNSF, officials said.

Sunday’s wreck was the first time since Cascades service began in 1999 that rail cars toppled with passengers aboard.

“We’ve gone millions of passenger miles over the history of the program, and this is the first derailment with passengers on board, with only bumps and bruises, which is fortunate,” said Jason Biggs, operations manager for the state Department of Transportation.

Amtrak 506 runs between the Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, metro area and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Seattle Times contributed to this report.

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