Amtrak crash kills two train enthusiasts

Two friends, Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, loved to ride trains. So it was no surprise that they decided to go on the...

Posted: Dec. 21, 2017 9:30 AM
Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 9:30 AM

Two friends, Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, loved to ride trains. So it was no surprise that they decided to go on the inaugural run of Amtrak Cascades 501 when the new service opened.

The two men, along with a third victim, were killed when the train derailed Monday near Tacoma, Washington.

The third man killed was identified as Benjamin Gran, 40, from Auburn, Washington.

Hamre, 61, and Willhoite, 35, were train enthusiasts who had both worked in the transportation industry. The two had recently returned from a trip to Germany, where they had taken a train around the country, CNN affiliate KIRO reported.

"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," Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews said in a statement. "Both Jim and Zack have been advocates of transit and passenger rail for decades, and we can't thank them enough for their work."

Hamre and Willhoite were members of the Rail Passengers Association, which advocates for better passenger train service. The two also served on the board of All Aboard Washington, a group that promotes better passenger and freight rail transportation in the state.

Carl Fowler was a friend of both. He said he would use the word "kind" to describe them.

"And they were both consummate professionals," he said.

In a Facebook post, Fowler said Hamre was the "brother I never had," and he introduced him to Willhoite.

"They were soul mates," Fowler wrote.

The two friends had brilliant minds, Fowler said.

Hamre worked on the Milwaukee Road, a rail line that had extended from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. He also worked at the Washington State Department of Transportation and got into advocacy work in the 1980s, according to the Rail Passengers Association.

"Jim was proud of the part that rail advocates played as stakeholders in expanding passenger rail services in the Northwest," the group's chairman, Peter LeCody, said in a statement.

Willhoite worked as an IT customer service support specialist for Pierce Transit, the public transport agency in Pierce County, Washington. He had worked there since 2008.

His friend Kevin R. Cartwright described Willhoite as a "fastidious public transportation archivist, mass transit history enthusiast, and a public transportation professional."

He had many interests and was generous in helping anyone who needed information.

Cartwright said without Willhoite's meticulous research, photography and knowledge of transportation history, "this valuable data would not be available to current transit advocates and transit planners as they look to the past to formulate viable plans for the future."

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