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Officials: Southbound I-5 could stay closed for days at derailment site

KOMO photo

DUPONT, Wash. - The southbound lanes of Interstate 5 at the site of Monday's deadly Amtrak derailment will likely remain closed through at least Wednesday morning and possibly for several days, a state transportation official says.

In the meantime, nightmarish traffic jams are forming on surface roads in the area as motorists try to get through by alternate routes. Backups of up to 16 miles have been reported on Highway 507 already, said Travis Phelps of the state Department of Transportation.

Phelps said southbound I-5 won't reopen until most or all of the derailed cars have been removed and the freeway has been thoroughly inspected and repaired. The railroad bridge over the freeway also must be certified to be structurally sound. All of that could take days, he said.

So far, four of the 14 cars on the derailed train have been removed from the scene, said Capt. Dan Hall of the Washington State Patrol.

He said all of the cars that plunged off the embankment onto or alongside I-5 will need to be lifted by crane and placed on flatbed trucks, then moved to a secure location inside Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The cars will be trucked north in the closed southbound lanes of I-5 to the Steilacoom-Dupont exit. Then, the northbound lanes of I-5 will be closed intermittently while the cars are moved from the freeway to the off-ramp over the coming hours or days.

"Each car has a unique challenge to it," Hall said. "We're moving as quickly as we can, but we want to make sure everybody (on the work crews) is safe."

The biggest challenge will be moving the train's 270,000-pound front locomotive, which landed squarely on the freeway.

"It will take quite a feat to get that out of there," Hall said.

He said crews hope to move the locomotive Tuesday afternoon, but they are still working out the logistics of moving it. Two cranes will be required to lift it, he said, and then it must be secured to two trucks operating in tandem before it is shipped to JBLM.

Officials also said the inclement weather - heavy rain and wind - is complicating efforts to clear the scene.

In the meantime, Hall implored motorists to stay away from the area if at all possible. Anyone who needs to get through should consider carpooling or using public transportation, he said.

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