Investigators are investigating deadly Amtrak derailment in Montana - Denver Post | MCUTimes

Investigators are investigating deadly Amtrak derailment in Montana – Denver Post

By AMY 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 northern Montana that killed three people and left seven inpatient Sundays, officials said.

The westbound Empire Builder was on its way to Seattle from Chicago with two locomotives and 10 cars as it left the tracks around 4pm on Saturday near Joplin, a city of about 200.

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

A team of 14 members, including investigators and specialists in railway signals, would investigate the cause of the derailment on a BNSF Railway main track that did not involve other trains or equipment. said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.

Law enforcement said officials from the NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF had arrived at the site, cutting through recently harvested wheat fields. Several large cranes were brought to the tracks that run roughly parallel to US Highway 2, along with a truck carrying gravel and new railroad tracks.

From a distance, several railroad cars could still be seen on their sides.

The crash site is about 241 kilometers northeast of Helena and about 48 kilometers from the Canadian border.

Most of those on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five who were more seriously injured remained at Benefis Health System Hospital in Great Falls, Montana, said Sarah Robbin, Liberty County Emergency Services Coordinator. Two were at the ICU, another spokeswoman said.

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

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

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

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

Amtrak said it sent emergency personnel and other officials to the scene to help passengers, employees and local officials. It said company officials were “deeply saddened” to be told of the deaths.

Due to the derailment, Sunday’s westbound Empire Builder ends up from Chicago in Minneapolis, and the eastbound train originates from Minneapolis.

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

“My first thought was that we were derailing, because honestly I have anxiety and I had heard stories about train tracks,” said Vandervest of Minneapolis. “My second thought was that it was crazy. We would not derail. That’s not how it happens. ”

She told the Times that the car behind her was tipped over, the one behind that was overturned, and the three cars behind that “had fallen completely off the tracks and were detached from the train.”

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

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

Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a school.

“I went to school and helped with water, food, dry dirt of faces,” she said. “They looked tired, shaking, but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more confused than others, depending on where they were on the train. ”

A Chester grocery store, about 5 miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.

Passengers were taken by bus to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services, and was warned of the crash.

Photos on social media showed railroad cars on their sides and passengers standing next to the rails and some carrying luggage. The pictures showed sunny skies, and it looked like the accident happened along a straight stretch 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 that the derailment stemmed from a problem with the train track or equipment or a combination of both.

Railways have “virtually eliminated” major derailments in human error following the implementation of positive train controls nationwide, Zarembski said.

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

NTSB findings can take months, he added.

Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw several years of rail crash investigations at the NTSB, said the agency would not rule out human error or other potential causes for now.

“There are still human performance issues being investigated by the NTSB to make sure the people doing the work are qualified and rested and doing it properly,” Chipkevich said.

Chipkevich said track conditions have historically been a major cause of train accidents. He noted that most of the track Amtrak uses is owned by freight trains and it depends on these companies for safety maintenance.

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Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press authors Tom Krisher of Detroit, Martha Bellisle of Seattle, and Michelle Liu of Columbia, South Carolina, contributed.

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