At least 3 dead in Amtrak train derailment in Montana

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JOPLIN, Mont. – At least three people were killed on Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train that runs from Seattle to Chicago derailed in north-central Montana, knocking several cars onto its side, authorities said.

The westbound Empire Builder train derailed around 4 p.m. near Joplin, a town of about 200 residents, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement. The crash site is approximately 150 miles northeast of Helena and approximately 30 miles from the border with Canada.

Liberty County Sheriff’s dispatcher Starr Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She didn’t have more details. Amtrak confirmed the deaths and said there were several injuries.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that local authorities now confirm that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” said Abrams.

The train had around 141 passengers and 16 crew on board, Abrams said. The train had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, he said.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that local authorities now confirm that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” said Abrams.

Megan Vandervest, a passenger who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, said The New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories of trains going off the rails,” said Vandervest, from 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 his was tilted, the one behind that had overturned, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen 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 passengers.

Chester City Councilor Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped around 50 to 60 passengers who were taken to a local 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 5 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.

The National Transportation Safety Board will send a 14-member team, including investigators and specialists in railway signals and other disciplines, to investigate the crash, spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Weiss said the derailment occurred around 3:55 p.m. and no other train or equipment was involved. The train was running on a main line of the BNSF railway at the time, he said.

Photos posted 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.

Amtrak said that due to the derailment, the Sunday Westbound Empire Builder will end in Minneapolis, and the Sunday Eastbound Empire Builder train will depart Minneapolis.

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.

Depending on the complexity of the cause of the derailment, the NTSB’s findings can take months, he added, as investigators must interview witnesses and sift through the stack and damage to collect evidence and then send in evidence. samples for further testing.

Other recent Amtrak derailments include:

■ April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train traveling at over 100 mph in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead locomotive of the train derailed.

■ March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwestern Kansas, derailing five cars and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a feed delivery truck struck the track and moved it at least 30 cm before the derailment.

■ October 5, 2015: A passenger train from Vermont to Washington, DC, derailed when it struck rocks that had fallen on the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled onto an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.

■ May 12, 2015: Amtrak train 188 was traveling at twice the 50 mph speed limit when it entered a tight bend in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven cars hit the tracks. Several cars overturned and torn apart.


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