msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/18/2011 6:18:43 PM ET 2011-08-18T22:18:43

A small explosive device was found near the body of a woman who was struck and killed by a freight train near a northwest Seattle park Thursday morning, prompting a police bomb squad to respond.

Police said there appears to be no connection between the woman and the device, which was not large enough to do damage to the tracks.

"It was just a strange coincidence," Detective Mark Jamieson said.

"Detectives were able to examine the device and determined that it had been there for some time, possibly even left over from the Fourth of July. It is unlikely that the device would have done any damage to the tracks or train," he said.

The device had a fuse and resembled a small pipe bomb, and it was discovered after a 63-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe train struck a woman on the tracks near Carkeek Park, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI were helping to investigate.

The crew said the woman was walking in the same direction as the southbound train when for some reason she knelt down on the tracks, Melonas said.

The crew blew the whistle and applied the emergency brake, but the train, which was hauling containers of general merchandise, could not stop in time, Melonas said.  

The woman, believed to be in her 50s, died at the scene, fire officials said.

It was not clear why the woman was on the tracks, which are also used by Amtrak passenger trains and Sounder regional commuter trains. It could have been a suicide attempt, one official told NBC News.

The line, which is used by more than 40 trains a day, was shut down while authorities investigated.

Three other people have been killed on BNSF railroad tracks in the Seattle area so far this month. Melonas says the number of trespassing deaths increases in warm weather as much of the line runs along Puget Sound.

Msnbc.com's James Eng and NBC News' Pete Williams contributed to this report.

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