"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."This week, we’ve seen the very best of humanity when circumstances couldn’t have been more difficult.
- Fred Rogers
On Monday morning, Dec. 18, an Amtrak passenger train derailed in DuPont, blocking all lanes of southbound Interstate 5. As the sound of sirens filled the air, our staff dropped what they were doing and rushed to the scene. While soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), firefighters, medics and other passersby treated and transported the injured, we set up detours and alternative routes with other local agencies to keep people moving. Nearby cities sprang into action, establishing places where family members could be comforted, supplied food and water to family gathering areas, and an area Incident Command Center.
Several people were hurt, and lives were lost. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this tragedy. Two of the victims, former co-workers Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, were familiar faces to us personally.
While work continued at the site of the derailment, it was a challenge for people to go about their daily lives, but it was made possible by communities who came together. Commuters and freight haulers were rerouted onto detours that added up to 75 miles, and at times, hours to their trips. Local cities and counties worked cooperatively to reroute traffic and change signal timing for the extra vehicles making their way through each town. Our partners at JBLM opened a section of Perimeter Road to the public for a local detour route.
Our dedicated maintenance crews worked tirelessly in rain, wind and near-freezing conditions to reopen southbound I-5 once they were cleared to begin road repairs. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 20, two lanes of southbound I-5 reopened to traffic. Four hours later, the final third southbound lane reopened along with the full I-5/Mounts Road interchange.
We are grateful for the work of our partners at the Washington State Patrol, Pierce County, JBLM, Amtrak, Sound Transit, the Department of Ecology, and numerous area police and fire departments and medics.
We would also would like to thank the cities, residents and businesses along the various detour routes in Mason, Kitsap, Thurston and Pierce counties. The communities of DuPont, Lakewood, Steilacoom, JBLM, Roy, Yelm, Tenino, McKenna, Port Orchard, Shelton, Belfair and everyone in-between, all worked to help travelers make it to their destinations.
While the traffic may be moving again and the wreckage removed, the images and actions that took place these past few days remain on our mind and in our hearts. We thank those affected for their patience, understanding and compassion, as we worked together to restore the region’s transportation system.
To the helpers – our sincerest thank you.