Zack Willhoite and James "Jim" Hamre, who were good friends and passionate transit advocates, wanted to be among the first riders to experience the new, faster route from Washington to Oregon Monday before the train flew off the tracks.
Wilhoite, Hamre, and another man, Benjamin Gran, died and more than 70 others were injured when the Amtrak train hurtled through a 30 mph zone at more than twice the speed before derailing and spilling onto an interstate near Tacoma, Washington.
Willhoite was an employee of Pierce Transit since 2008 and worked as an IT customer service support specialist, according to the organization, which confirmed his death on Tuesday.
"He has always been deeply appreciated and admired by his colleagues, and played an important role at our agency. He will be sincerely missed," Pierce Transit said.
Wilhoite was also a long-time member of All Aboard Washington, a rail advocacy organization "dedicated to promoting the improvement of rail transportation services in the Pacific Northwest." Willhoite, along with his wife and mother, managed most of the group's membership renewals, president Harvey Bowen told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.
Willhoite was known to his colleagues and friends as a rail aficionado and "an advocate for better transit for all," the chair of Pierce Transit's advisory board said in a tweet.
A fellow transit enthusiast remembered Willhoite as passionate contributor to the community, saying his "transit archives and documentation of Tacoma Transit and Pierce County Transit vehicles is probably more extensive than anyone in the Pacific Northwest region."
Wilhoite's friend and fellow rail fan, Hamre, was also killed in the accident, the chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Like Willhoite, Hamre was also a board member of All Aboard Washington and served as its vice president for at least 10 years, Bowen told BuzzFeed News.
He recently retired from the Washington State Department of Transportation and also served as a board member of the Rail Passengers Association (RPA).
Hamre got involved in transportation advocacy in the early 1980s, the RPA said in a statement.
"Jim combined personability and kindness, and paired it with an intricate and detailed knowledge of transit policy and technical insight. This made him an extremely powerful advocate and an inspiration for others," the statement said.
The RPA's president Jim Mathews described Hamre as "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," Mathews said.
One of the last things Hamre posted on his Facebook page were photos of the Amtrak Cascades 501 train arriving at the Tacoma Station.
"Jim spent much of his personal time and treasure, when he wasn't working at WSDOT, advocating for more and better trains in America," Dennis Lytton, a transit activist and Hamre's friend said in a Facebook post.
In a blog post about Hamre and Willhoite, their fellow RPA member Malcolm Kenton, described Hamre as a "true stalwart of rail passenger advocacy, and an all-around terrific guy."
"He was generous, affable, knowledgable, and a straight shooter. Such fun to be around, Kenton wrote, adding that Hamre was also a mentor to several young rail advocates.
A member of the transit community said that Willhoite — who was known as "Bus dude" — and Hamre wanted to be among those on the Amtrak's inaugural route.
In a Facebook comment, Carl Fowler, who was friends with both Hamre and Willhoite, said the two men were "soul mates."
"They went with me on tours I led to Europe and the world," Fowler said. "We ate pizza together, laughed together, saw glorious scenery and wonderful places."
Fowler described Willhoite as the "kindest, smartest, most decent guy, and even more an extraordinarily insightful friend" and said that Hamre was "quite simply the brother I never had, my best friend and a far better person than me."
Benjamin Gran, a 40-year-old from Auburn, Washington, also died in the crash, the Piere County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Wednesday.
"We lost one of our own," the city of Auburn wrote on Facebook. "Please keep the Gran family in your thoughts and prayers during this most difficult time."