Amy by Beth Hanson and Anita Snow
Joplin, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials sent a team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board to the site of an Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that killed three people and hospitalized seven, officials said. said.
The Empire Builder on the west side was en route from Chicago to Seattle with two engines and 10 cars when it left the tracks near Joplin, a city of about 200, at about 4 p.m. Saturday.
Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said the train had about 141 passengers and 16 crew members and had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed.
A 14-member team, including investigators and experts in railway signals, will investigate the cause of the derailment on the main track of BNSF railways in which no other train or equipment was involved. NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.
The crash site is about 150 miles (241 kilometers) northeast of Helena and about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Canadian border.
Liberty County Emergency Services Coordinator Sarah Robin said most of the people on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five who were more seriously injured remained at Benefit Health System Hospital in Great Falls, Montana. . Two were in the ICU, another spokesman said.
Spokesperson Melody Sharpton said another two people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, Montana.
Liberty County Sheriff Nick Erickson said the names of the dead would not be released until relatives were notified.
Robin said when the accident happened, nearby residents rushed to offer help.
“We are very fortunate to be where we live, where neighbors help neighbors,” she said.
Amtrak said it sent emergency personnel and other officials to the scene to help passengers, staff and local officials. It said company officials were “deeply saddened” to learn of the deaths.
Because of the derailment, the Empire Builder westbound from Chicago on Sunday will end in Minneapolis, and the eastbound train will start in Minneapolis.
Passenger Megan Vanderwest told The New York Times that she was woken up by the derailment.
“My first thought was that we were derailing, to be honest, I’m worried and I’ve heard stories of trains derailing,” said Minneapolis’s VanderWest. “My second thought was he’s crazy. We’re not going to be derailed. Like, it doesn’t happen.”
She told the Times that the car behind her had tilted, the car behind her overturned, and that the three cars behind her had “completely fallen off the tracks and separated from the train.”
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where some passengers were being taken, Vanderwest said it felt like “extreme turbulence in the plane.”
Residents of the communities near the accident site quickly mobilized to help.
Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekire said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a school.
“I went to school and helped me with water, food, wipes off my face,” she said. “He seemed tired, shaken but happy that he was where he was. Some looked more chaotic than others, depending on where they were on the train. “
A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.
Passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekire, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the accident.
In pictures on social media, railway vehicles and passengers standing on the side of the tracks are seen carrying some luggage. The images showed sunny skies, and the accident appeared to have occurred along a straight section of tracks.
Alan Zerembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he did not want to speculate, but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.
Zerembski said railways have been “virtually eliminated” by human error following the implementation of positive train controls across the country.
“I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,” Zerembski said.
He said the NTSB’s findings could take months.
Bob Chipkiewicz, who oversaw the NTSB investigation into the train accident for many years, said the agency would not yet rule out human error or any other possible cause.
“Human performance issues are still investigated by the NTSB to ensure that the people doing the work are qualified and resting and doing it properly,” Chipevich said.
Chipevich said the condition of the track has historically been a significant cause of train accidents. He noted that most of the tracks used by Amtrak are owned by freight railroads and it relies on those companies for safety maintenance.
Other recent Amtrak derailments include:
– April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers are killed when an Amtrak train traveling at over 100 mph is hit in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead engine of the train derailed.
– March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derails in southwest Kansas, derailing five cars and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track and moved it at least a foot before the derailment.
– October 5, 2015: A passenger train from Vermont to Washington, D.C. derailed when it collided with rocks that fell onto the track from a ledge. A locomotive and a passenger car rammed 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 as it entered a sharp curve in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars derailed. Several cars were overturned and damaged.
Snow Reporting from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Tom Crischer in Detroit, Martha Belisle in Seattle and Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina contributed.