(NBC News) - Several people were killed and dozens were injured Monday after an Amtrak train derailed while traveling on the first day of a new route outside Tacoma, Washington, careening off a bridge and onto a highway below.
"The casualties include multiple injuries and fatalities," Detective Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said of the 7:40 a.m. crash.
No motorists were killed, officials said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was launching a team to determine what happened.
There were 78 passengers and five crew members on board the train headed from Seattle to Portland, Amtrak said.
Passenger Chris Karnes told MSNBC that the train derailed while traveling on tracks that are part of a new route in and out of Tacoma. The southbound train had just passed the city of Dupont and was traveling about 70 mph, he said.
"At a certain point the train started to wobble a little bit and the next thing that we knew we were down in a ditch," Karnes, member of a local transportation advisory group, said. "The train had crumpled."
He spoke as a rescue operation was still underway, describing inured people being lifted out of the wreckage.
"When we got to the scene it was obvious that there were some fatalities and there were a lot of injuries and some people were able to get off the train," Troyer told reporters. "Multiple cars and trucks were struck by train cars that left the train tracks and went down onto the road. The people that were in all the vehicles, even though when you see the pictures, it’s pretty horrific, at this point nobody in any of the vehicles is a fatal. The fatals are all contained to the train."
Witness Kolter Raudebauga told local NBC affiliate KING that the train seemed to have "nosedived," leaving it "dangling off the ramp there, off the track."
Another witness, Dan Konzelman, told MSNBC he climbed onto the tracks after the crash and joined others helping victims while waiting for emergency crews to arrive.
"Some of them couldn’t move they had neck or back injuries, so we assigned people to stay there with them and keep them calm," Konzelman said. "And then we worked our way down to more serious injuries where people were pinned underneath the trains that had flipped upside down, and unfortunately there were some deceased."
Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted a picture of the derailment at 7:45 a.m. PST, showing what appeared to be a car on its side over a highway lane.
"All SB lanes of I-5 blocked near Mounts Road in Pierce County due to derailed train car. Avoid area!" the tweet said.
The derailment involved Train 501 of Amtrak's Cascades service from Seattle to Portland, the railroad said. Service south of Seattle was temporarily suspended, Amtrak said.
The derailment happened on a newly established Amtrak route aimed at adding more frequent, more reliable and faster service between Seattle and Portland, part of an $800 million project called the Cascades High-Speed Rail Capital Program.
The new route, called the Point Defiance Bypass Project, was billed as an improvement over tracks that hugged the scenic Puget Sound but included tight curves and single-track tunnels around Point Defiance. The new route uses an existing rail line that runs along Interstate 5 from south Tacoma through Dupont before reconnecting with the main line.
The improvements also included a new Amtrak station in Tacoma.
Don Anderson, mayor of Lakewood, a city along the new route, said he was among many in the area concerned about the speed of the trains that would be traveling through their communities. He said he was part of an unsuccessful bid to stop the switch, or change it.
President Donald Trump first tweeted that the crash was a reason to support his planned infrastructure bill.
The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2017
The president soon followed up by tweeting, "My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont, Washington. Thank you to all of our wonderful First Responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House."
On the prior route, along the Puget Sound, an Amtrak Cascades service train derailed in July with 267 people on board as it approached a drawbridge, leaving several injured.
Monday's crash was the first fatal railway accident since May 12, 2015, when an Amtrak train derailed outside Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. Three months before that, a Metro-North Railroad train hit an SUV on a crossing in Valhalla, New York, killing the car's driver and five on the train.