Best friends who loved trains killed in catastrophic derailment

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Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite were aboard the inaugural run of train 501 along a fast new bypass that was created by refurbishing freight tracks.

When the train went along a curve before an Interstate 5 overpass – hurtling at 50 mph over the speed limit – it jumped the tracks. The screech and clang of metal was followed by silence, then screams, as the injured cried out to rescuers and motorists who pulled over and rushed to help.

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More than 70 people were injured, 10 of them seriously. Hamre and Willhoite are among the three people killed in the train derailment.

They are remembered as men who were devoted to their family and friends – as well as passionate advocates for passenger railroads.

The two had just returned from a trip, where they rode a train around Germany.

"Both Jim and Zack have been advocates of transit and passenger rail for decades, and we can't thank them enough for their work. Our thoughts are with their families at this time, as they work through this tragedy," said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews.

Jim Hamre

Hamre was a board member for the RPA as well as a vice president of All Aboard Washington.

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He started work on the Milwaukee Road in the early 1970s while studying at Washington State University and moved on to work at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

He became involved in transportation advocacy in the early 1980s.

"Jim was among the country's most-respected and effective rail advocates and a good friend and mentor to me. I will miss his counsel, and our community is poorer for his loss," said Mathews.

A news release from the RPA said Hamre was devoted his family and friends, in addition to his work.

Zack Willhoite

Pierce County Transit identified Zack Willhoite, one of their employees, as one of the three killed when the train went off an overpass and dangled above Interstate 5 in DuPont.

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Willhoite has been a Pierce Transit employee since 2008. Willhoite was also a member of the Rail Passengers Association, and he served as the Director of Information Technology for All Aboard Washington.

He was someone admired by his family, friends, and colleagues.

Pierce Transit Advisory board member Chris Karnes wrote about the devastating crash that killed a “rail aficionado.”

Karnes sent a following tweet advocating for positive train control, which is a technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train. This kind of control wasn’t in use on the stretch of track where the train derailed.

More on derailment from KIRO 7