Investigators Investigate Fatal Amtrak Derailment in Montana – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports

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JOPLIN, Mont. (AP) – Federal officials sent a team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators to the site of an Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that left three people dead and seven others hospitalized on Sunday, reports said. responsible.

The westbound Empire Builder was on its way to Seattle from Chicago, with two locomotives and 10 cars, when it rolled off the track around 4 p.m. Saturday near Joplin, a town of about 200 people.

The train carried around 141 passengers and 16 crew and had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.

A 14-member team including investigators and rail signal specialists would investigate the cause of the derailment on a main track on the BNSF railway that did not involve any other train or equipment. NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Law enforcement said officials from the NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF arrived at the crash scene just west of Joplin, where the tracks crossed vast fields of recently harvested golden brown wheat. . Several large cranes were brought onto the tracks that run roughly parallel to US Highway 2, along with a gravel truck and new railroad ties.

From a distance, several cars were still visible on their sides.

The crash site is approximately 150 miles (241 kilometers) northeast of Helena and approximately 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Canadian border.

Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn expressed his condolences to the victims and said the company was working with the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration and local law enforcement, sharing their “sense of urgency” to determine what that happened.

“However, until the investigation is complete, we will not comment further on the accident itself,” Flynn said in the statement. “The NTSB will identify the cause (s) of this accident, and Amtrak is committed to taking appropriate action to prevent a similar accident in the future. “

Most of the people on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five more seriously injured people remained at Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls, MT, said Sarah Robbin, emergency services coordinator. of Liberty County. Two were in intensive care, another spokeswoman said.

Working until about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Robbin said emergency crews struggled unsuccessfully to cut open cars with special tools, “so they had to manually carry a lot of passengers who couldn’t walk.”

Two other people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, MT, spokeswoman Melody Sharpton said.

Liberty County Sheriff Nick Erickson said the names of the dead would not be released until loved ones were notified.

Robbin said nearby residents rushed to offer help when the derailment occurred.

“We are so lucky to live where we live, where the neighbors help the neighbors,” she said.

Amtrak said it has sent emergency personnel and other officials to the site to assist passengers, employees and local officials. He said company officials were “deeply saddened” to learn of the deaths.

Due to the derailment, the Empire Builder westbound from Chicago will end in Minneapolis, and the eastbound train will depart from Minneapolis.

Passenger Megan Vandervest told the New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were derailed because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories of trains going off the rails,” said Vandervest, of Minneapolis. “My second thought was it’s crazy. We would not be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.

She told The Times that the car behind hers was tilted, the one behind that had overturned, and the three cars behind that “completely fell off the rails and pulled away from the train.”

Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where some passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it sounded like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”

Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help.

Chester City Councilor Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped around 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a school.

“I went to school and brought water, food, wiping the dirt off faces,” she said. “They seemed tired, shaken up but happy to be where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending on where they were on the train.

A grocery store in Chester, about five miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.

The passengers were taken by bus to hotels near Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and has been alerted to the crash.

Photos on social media showed wagons on their side and passengers standing along the tracks, some carrying luggage. The footage showed sunny skies and it appeared that the accident had occurred along a straight section of track.

Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s railway engineering and safety program, said he did not want to speculate but suspected the derailment was due to a problem with the track or equipment, or a combination of the two.

Railways have “virtually eliminated” major derailments by human error after the implementation of nationwide positive train control, Zarembski said.

“I would be surprised if this was a human factor derailment,” Zarembski said.

NTSB conclusions could take months, he added.

Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw railway accident investigations for several years at the NTSB, said the agency would not rule out human error or any other potential cause at this time.

“There are still human performance issues being looked at by the NTSB to make sure that the people doing the job are qualified, rested and doing it right,” Chipkevich said.

Chipkevich said track conditions have always been a major cause of train accidents. He noted that most of the tracks used by Amtrak are owned and operated by freight railways for safety maintenance.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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