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Train Derails in Washington State. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 3:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Back with the breaking news here on this Monday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Let's get straight to Washington state. We have just learned that the NTSB -- that's the National Transportation Safety Board -- is sending 20 investigators to this scene of this deadly high-speed Amtrak train derailment in Washington state.

Investigators say the train somehow jumped the track during the peak rush hour this morning. This is just south of Tacoma, Washington. You can imagine the train and all of the cars under that underpass during this busy rush hour morning, and, as you can see, some of these train cars toppling down below on I-5, others dangling off this overpass.

Right now, they are saying multiple fatalities. Specific numbers, we don't have those yet. Also, we don't have specifics as far as injured, but we can tell you that those killed were all on the train, which was on its inaugural run or very first run from Seattle to Portland -- 77 victims -- by the way, that is 77 out of 78 who were on the train -- have been taken to hospitals.

There were five crew members on board as well. Authorities have released this radio transmission of the moment the train's conductor called 911.


UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: Amtrak 501. Emergency. Emergency. Emergency. We are on the ground.


UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: We are on the bridge I-5 at the freeway.


UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: On the freeway. We need EMS ASAP. It looks like they're already starting to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dispatcher 501, come in. UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: Amtrak 501, answering Centralia North.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, guys. What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: We were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there right north in Nisqually and we went on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Are you -- is everybody OK?

UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: I'm still figuring that out. We have got cars everywhere and down on to the highway.


UNIDENTIFIED AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: As soon as I know exactly where all my train is, I will let you know.


BALDWIN: With me now, Rene Marsh, CNN aviation and government regulation correspondent.

Rene, before I go to you, I also just got some new information. We know the governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee, left the capital just a little bit ago en route to this reunification center.

Families are being told, do not go to the accident scene. Go to where the DuPont City reunification center, where the families are coming together, and then apparently the governor will head on to survey for himself what we're looking at.

But you have been in touch with investigators and NTSB. We mentioned that 20-person go team en route to Washington state. What will they be looking at?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: And that is a pretty large number when you talk about a go team, because they consider this major incident.

When they go there, Brooke, they are going to be focused on several things. First off, they want to start collecting all the perishable evidence that is there, so they want to get to that very quickly. Of course, they are going to want to do interviews with the crew.

They will want to know a long list of -- a very long list of information, everything from how much sleep they got the night before to what they ate this morning, any medications they may be on.

They will also want to talk to the passengers who were on board, and then there is a team that will be focused very closely on the track. Was there something wrong with this track? The mechanics of the train, was it operating properly. All of those things will come into play. They will want to get the black boxes on the train because the speed is going to be an important factor here. We do know that along that route it is rated for a maximum speed of 79

miles per hour. However, what we don't know is what was the speed limit at this point within that curve? So, the maximum is 79 miles per hour, but it could have been a lot slower in that section of track that we're looking at there where that derailment happened.

So that is going to be another thing that they're going to be paying close attention to. Was it going at an appropriate speed for that section of track?

I do know, based on just public records there in Washington state, that this underwent two phases of testing before they opened. Most recently, this train was tested February 2017.


They tested everything from the signals, looking at the tracks as well, but, Brooke, a lot of questions here as far as, what is the cause? Was it something mechanical or did it have anything to do with human performance, namely any member of the crew that was on board?

BALDWIN: Do we know, just quickly, on the testing, did they actually test the train full or do we not know?

MARSH: We do know, and then I'm quoting from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

They say that it underwent two phases of testing before opening day. Most recently, in February 2017, that is when the Amtrak trains were expected to test both the tracks, as well as the signals, at speeds of up to 79 miles per hour.

So that is the two phases that we're talking about here, the tracks. And in order to test the tracks, you would essentially need to run the train on there, as well as the signals.

So, was there something that was missed? Did something go wrong with the track? Still lots of unanswered questions, Brooke. But I can tell you one thing. The black box in that locomotive, it will give us plenty of answers.

BALDWIN: Just stunning, still looking at these pictures and thinking no one was killed.

Again, according to initial reports, no one was killed on the highway as a result of these train cars coming, careening down and crushing some of these trucks and cars down below.

Rene, keep working your sources. And we will pop you back on TV when get more. Thank you so much.

On the investigation piece of this, Russ Quimby is with me. Russ is a former railroad safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

So, Russ, thank you so much for hopping on the phone with me. We know some of your I guess former colleagues, this 20-person go team en route to the scene, but first to you, just big picture. You have been looking at these pictures, as we all have all day, and just, you know, when you see the different train cars and you heard that, you know, radio, apparently was about to round a curve, what are your initial thoughts just looking at these pictures?

RUSSELL QUIMBY, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: Well, the longer I look at the pictures, I had to go online to take a -- and get a -- basically a satellite view of what I was looking at.

And it appears when you look at the pictures that the train had just -- was coming around the corner and entering onto the bridge, the overpass of the southbound I-5. And you can notice that -- this train looks like it had a locomotive on each end.

It was what they call a push-pull operation, and so the more conventional Amtrak-looking locomotive that you see still on the track, that was the rear end, I believe. And if you look at some of the other pictures where you can see the other locomotive, that's down alongside -- that, what you're looking at right now, is it looks like that was the lead locomotive.


BALDWIN: The locomotive on the right, I think, is what you were referencing, not the one that is on the ground.


QUIMBY: You can see that . That looks like the lead locomotive.

The one on the far right I believe is on the end. And it looks like it didn't make the curve. It looked like it went off to the outside of the curve, which would indicate overspeed.

BALDWIN: Got it.

That's what the NTSB spokeswoman -- that was question number one about speed. And she said too early to know.

So, knowing what you know, and how investigations like this work -- and Rene mentioned the black boxes. You know they are going to be looking for those black boxes. What secrets, what information lies in the black box of this train?

QUIMBY: It will have all kinds of information, but predominantly in this particular case, speed.

It will also have braking, whether he used a horn or not, and all kinds of other factors that go into train operations.

BALDWIN: When you heard Rene, my question was about testing, right?

And there had been concerns. You look at recent newspaper articles, questions and concerns within communities about, this is high speed and this is about making sure people can get between Seattle and Portland quicker than they ever could before, and there were concerns specifically about this train and even predicting a deadly crash. And that's precisely when we're talking about today.

So when you test a train like this, do you test it fully with all of the weight on board or not?

QUIMBY: Generally speaking, the amount of -- when you say all of the weight on board, the amount of..

BALDWIN: As though you would have 78 people and five crew members.

QUIMBY: Yes, 78 folks compared to the weight of the train is not significant.

So they could test it empty and basically give you almost the same performance as it would if you had every seat occupied.


BALDWIN: Forgive me, let me just jump in, because I think I'm answering -- I just got handed an urgent, which says: "This Amtrak Cascades train is owned by" -- this is Washington State Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Transportation.


And Amtrak operates it. It is a contract between two states. After weeks of testing, W.S. DOT says this was the first public use of the track.

First public use of the track, what does that tell you?

QUIMBY: Well, when they say the first public use, that doesn't include testing, and that's the first time you had paying customers.


So would have tested. As they were rounding the curve, and obviously these NTSB folks are going to be asking many questions of the conductor and blood tests from previous days and sleep and that kind of thing, but would the conductor know at the time, seconds before this would happen, realizing oh, my God, we're going to crash?

QUIMBY: Well, you're mixing terminology here. The guy that is operating the locomotive is the locomotive engineer.

BALDWIN: Forgive me. The locomotive engineer. You're the expert. You tell me, sir.


QUIMBY: The conductor, he's back there on the train taking care of passengers.

BALDWIN: I'm talking about the driver, the engineer. QUIMBY: Yes. Yes.

The driver, he's the one that is operating the train. If he's complying with all the speed restrictions -- and this, I understand, was a 30-mile-an-hour curve -- they're going to know that.

They're going to see that on the video out of the front of the locomotive and you will see it on the event recorder, and there are all kinds of reasons for engineers to overspeed. We have had a number of accidents where the engineers on commuter trains have been falling asleep, have been caught napping, chronic fatigue and things like that.

This was an inaugural run. And I would not expect that. I would expect maybe there might be some kind of distraction if he was alone up there in the cabin. They had an official riding with him for the first time, since this was a maiden run.

That could have been factored in here, too.

BALDWIN: Russ, what about -- I have noticed some of the train cars and investigators are spray-painting numbers and circles. Do you know the significance of that?

QUIMBY: I'm sorry. Say that again?

BALDWIN: I have looked at -- some of us have noticed on some of these train cars, I don't know if you can notice the orange spray paint. And I don't know if there were X's, and circles and squares. Do you know what that notifies?

QUIMBY: The emergency services people use that. There is a standard code they use for bodies or people that are found injured or dead or that the car has been searched. And that's what that is.

BALDWIN: Understand.

Russ Quimby, thank you so much. I appreciate your voice, former NTSB.

We are going to pivot on over to a law enforcement individual who is briefing the press. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... thinking you are going to avoid traffic.

It's just going to really impact that traffic that we're diverting through the base and off the base. So if you're going northbound, please do not leave northbound and stay northbound.

Some of the other pertinent information you should know is that we are securing the scene right now. Life safety is really our precedence right now. We have got fire and law enforcement that we really need to make sure, so we need to secure that scene and we need to make sure that those cars are safe before they can get on and check for more casualties. Hazmat is a concern. We do have hazmat, hazardous incident response team on the way. Our concern right now is fuel and batteries. So, Pierce County hazard incident response is on the way.

Again, we're working to secure those trains and all reunification. We do have a family reunification center and we're asking people, again, please don't come to the scene. Go to DuPont City Hall. And that's where you can reunite with your Families.

And the phone number for Amtrak reunification is 1-800-523-9101. And that's all I have.

Thank you, guys.

QUESTION: Can you repeat the rail cars again, the number affected?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are 12 cars and two engines; 13 cars jumped the tracks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Potentially. We cannot make those safe so that we can check them out. We're working on that right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. And 13 jumped the tracks.

QUESTION: Is the portion of the track where the train derailed, is that the new track?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I don't know. I'm sorry.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: How long have you been doing this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long have I been a trooper? Since 2010.

QUESTION: Seven years. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never seen a trail derailment, no, but it's -- we see a lot in this job, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. We're not doing rescue operations at this time.

QUESTION: We have been hearing that it's possible that this stretch of I-5 could be closed for days. Do you know that at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know have a time at this point.

QUESTION: Who makes that decision? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're waiting for NTSB and for Amtrak to come

here, so that they can finish their investigation. We will just be assisting.

So, WASHDOT, State Patrol, we're here. I would say it is safe to say that this is going to go probably well into the night at this point.


QUESTION: Is fuel leaking?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not that I know of, but we do have hazmat en route just to make sure that everything is safe.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know about that. I'm sorry. I can't speak on that.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, one more time, can you request you repeat all the numbers from the top? You had a little list there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve cars with two engines; 13 of them jumped the track, multiple casualties.

Unfortunately, we're not confirming numbers at this time. There were 77 pass thinkers on board, five crew members, five motor vehicles involved on the freeway, and two semis.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if any of the people on the -- in the vehicles were severely injured or killed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know at this time. We're still investigating, trying to find out who's who.

There's a lot of working parts here, we ask for you guys to be please patient. You guys have been wonderful. And I really appreciate that.

It's still evolving right now and we're still trying to find out all numbers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what was your question?

QUESTION: Is only the rear of train is on the tracks right now? Thirteen jumped the tracks?


Anything else, folks? hank you, guys.

BALDWIN: OK. Just a couple of top lines there from that state trooper in Washington

state. You did hear her say there was 13 of those cars jumped the tracks early this morning in this train derailment. Hazmat is a concern.

She's not aware of fuel leaking out of some of these different train cars. But obviously they want to work as a precaution bringing out the hazmat crews, concerns in that area.

Working to secure the trains, and really the big key is for families. Families who are there in Washington state who are concerned about loved ones who could have been either under that underpass or on a train, they're saying, please, please don't go to the accident scene.

Go to the -- they're calling it a family reunification area. That's DuPont City Hall, and again they said not a rescue operation at this point -- 78 people on board the train, plus five crew members, 77 people taken to hospitals.

We're getting more information. You're watching CNN continuous coverage here. Back in a moment.




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me begin by expressing our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt prayers for the victims of the train derailment in Washington state.

We are closely monitoring the situation and coordinating with local authorities. It is all the more reason why we must start immediately fixing the infrastructure of the United States.


BALDWIN: That was President Trump just a short while ago addressing the deadly train derailment in Washington state.

He made those comments during a speech on his new national security strategy and the president also tweeting about the crash moments before his speech.

That first tweet read as follows: "The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, Washington, shows more than ever why our soon-to- be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly -- $7 trillion spent in the Middle East while all roads, bridges, tunnels, railways and more crumble. Not for long."

And then 11 minutes later included the families here: "My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont. Thank you for all of our wonder of first-responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House.:

Jeremy Diamond is covering the White House for us today as a reporter there.

And, so, Jeremy Diamond, noticeably in that first tweet, it was all about his infrastructure plan and not initially about families.


You saw the president there. His first instinct when he heard about this crash and sought to react to it on Twitter was call for a policy proposal, to use this tragedy to seek to push forward his infrastructure plan, which is something that he's talked about for a while.

And then we saw 11 minutes later the tweet about victims' families. And when the president made remarks later in the day, we saw him once again address the victim this time first, but again called for infrastructure plans.

And this is kind of a theme that we have seen with this president. We have seen him, when it is politically beneficial, use certain tragedies for his political benefit. When there are terrorist attacks, he immediately jumps on an immigration argument or is calling for the travel ban once again, but when it's a tragedy that doesn't necessarily serve his agenda, we don't see the same thing.

When it comes to, for example, mass shootings that have happened, the president and his administration have suggested that we should wait longer before talking about policy prescriptions, but clearly here, he's seeking to use this to push his infrastructure plan, but it's not clear exactly whether that would have made a difference here.

Of course, it will take some days before this investigation concludes to figure out what exactly happened, but the Washington State Department of Transportation has said that some upgrades were actually just recently made to this track, thanks to federal dollars, actually, and so -- and this was actually the first day of use of this new track.

So unclear exactly what caused this, but clearly this was a section of track that had recently been refurbished, so it's not clear how the president's calls for new infrastructure would apply here.

BALDWIN: First day, first route, right, on the high-speed rail from Seattle to Portland, so many questions.

Jeremy, thank you from the White House for us.

Let's really though hone in on the investigation piece of all of this.

George Bibel, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of North Dakota, is with us and author of "Train Wreck: The Forensics of Rail Disasters." And Richard Beal is with us, a railroad safety expert and former locomotive engineer for 47-plus years.

So, between the two of you, we have a wealth Of information here. I appreciate both of you being on with me. Richard Beal, just to you first. Put yourself in the shoes of these

NTSB guys and gals who will be arriving at some point today, and they're heading straight obviously for this derailment scene. What's question number one for them?


RICHARD BEAL, RAILROAD OPERATION AND SAFETY EXPERT: Question number one is going to be to find out where exactly that train left the track.

They're going to go back to the point where the first flange from the first wheel came off and look to see if there was anything wrong there. Was there a broken rail that caused the track to separate?

Was there something wrong with the equipment itself? Maybe a shattered wheel? And finally seeing the aerials that I have seen from this, this appears to be the crew error, high-speed curve error, because the thing that jumps out at me the most is how far some of the lead locomotive and the rail cars went after that first point where it left the rail at the beginning of the curve.

BALDWIN: They were rounding a curve? We could hear that just from one of the crew members calling up, dialing 911 and saying they were rounding the curve when precisely this happened.

So, George, to you. just on the mechanics of all of this. And someone was on a bit ago and reminded us of that horrible accident in Philadelphia that we remember covering, that train, that accident, and that also had to do with speed and a curve. And we talked a lot at the time about these -- you know the terminology than I do, but the mechanisms in place that encased the train wasn't slowed by human.

There was a fault switch or what was it, positive train control to slow it down automatically. Where is that?

GEORGE BIBEL, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA: Well, it's in the process of being updated nationwide.

It was federally mandated the end of 2016. They did not make the deadline and they have given a three-year extension. I'm not sure exactly where they're at on that this track. In Philadelphia, they were going about 100 miles an hour, came up on a 50 mile-an-hour curve, so roughly double the speed you will fly off the track.

Usually, the most common thing is equipment failure. I was just looking up a few numbers. So far this, year there's been 254 derailments, and only three of them for too fast on a curve.

So, usually something breaks, but it's too early to say anything specific.

BALDWIN: It's so early to know a lot of things, unfortunately, for these families, who I know want answer.

Gentlemen, stand by. There is a news conference now under way at this -- I believe it's the family reunification center.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The range of injuries, right now, we don't even know what that is, because they were quickly transported. And that information will be compiled later and released by the state patrol.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) What time are they expected to get here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what time they're going to get here. That's part of the investigation with the state.

So from here on out, the Washington State Patrol will be giving updates on numbers and fatals.

What I gave you is just where we're at right now. That brings us right up to exactly the same thing that is going on and the media is being told over where the incident occurred.

QUESTION: You said some of the train cars aren't safe to search right now. What is it going to take for people...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are shoring them up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, they're in the process of getting the equipment.

We have opened up an incident command center. And the incident command center is doing the logistics and doing what they need to do to get the proper equipment here to make sure they get in those train cars as soon as they possibly can.

QUESTION: Do we know if those cars were full?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no idea. No idea.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea. As far as any logistics with the train, I just don't know that. That's going to be up to somebody else to answer.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if they were on the new (OFF-MIKE) track?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was the first day, from what we understand, that these tracks to use for the train from Portland. It was the inaugural day.

And they were on the bypass tracks from where they used to go around the water. So, this would have been the first trip, first train, first day.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I don't know anything about that.

I do know that a lot of citizens that saw this happen got out of their cars and helped. So, a lot of citizens got out, did what they could to help people that were coming off the train and injured, and helped the fire department as they first started showing up, until multiple units got there, and they could start their extrication.

So, thanks to all those people that did that in the community (INAUDIBLE). You know, when something bad like this happens, it takes everybody to respond and make a good result of something that's actually horrific.

But considering, when you look at it, it could have been much worse. And we have trains that intersect with the freeway and a bridge and (INAUDIBLE).

I'm -- I'm -- we're very -- we're very grateful that everybody on the road is OK.