Joplin, Mont. (AP) — Federal investigators are looking into the cause of an Amtrak train derailment near a switch on the tracks in the middle of vast farmland in far northern Montana, killing three people and hospitalizing seven over the weekend. Have become.
The Westbound Empire Builder was traveling from Chicago to Seattle when it derailed near Joplin, a city of about 200, at around 4 p.m. Saturday. Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said about 141 passengers and 16 crew members were on board the train. It had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, some of which were tilted on their sides.
Trevor Fossen was on the scene first. The Joplin resident was on a dirt road near the tracks on Saturday when he saw a “wall of dust” hundreds of feet high.
“I started looking at it, wondering what it was, and then I saw the train overturn and derail,” said Fossen, who called 911 and tried to get people out. He called his brother to bring a ladder for those who could not get down after exiting the windows of the cars resting on their side.
Rhode Island traveler Jacob Cordeiro was on his way to Seattle with his father to celebrate his college graduation.
“I was in one of the cars ahead and we collided badly, were thrown from one side of the train to the other,” he told MSNBC. He said the train left the tracks near a switch, where the two tracks narrowed to one but did not fall.
“I’m a huge guy and it took me out of my chair and threw me into one wall and then threw me into another wall,” Cordeiro said.
Rail safety expert David Clark, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee, said the two locomotives and two cars in front of the train reached the switch and continued on the main track, but the remaining eight cars derailed. He said it was not clear whether some of the previous cars went to another track.
“Did the switch play some role? Maybe the front of the train hit the switch and it started fishing and that train back flipped,” Clarke said.
Another possibility was a malfunction in the rail, Clark said, noting that routine testing doesn’t always catch such problems. He said speed was not a likely factor as trains on that line have systems that prevent excessive speed and collisions.
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, equipment, or both.
Zerembski said railways have been “virtually eliminated” by human error following the implementation of positive train controls across the country.
BNSF Railway spokesman Matt Jones told a news conference that the track where the accident took place was last inspected on Thursday.
NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said a 14-member National Transportation Safety Board team, including investigators and railroad signal experts, would investigate the cause of the accident on the BNSF railway track.
Law enforcement said Sunday that NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF officers were at the crash site west of Joplin, where the track cut through vast, golden-brown wheat fields that had recently been cut. Several large cranes were brought to the tracks that run parallel to US Highway 2, along with truckloads of gravel and new railroad ties.
The site is approximately 150 miles (241 km) northeast of Helena and about 30 miles (48 km) from the Canadian border.
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn offered condolences to those who lost their loved ones and said the company was working with the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration and local law enforcement, sharing a “sense of urgency” to determine Is.
Because of the derailment, the Empire Builder westbound from Chicago on Sunday was terminating in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the eastbound train was starting in Minnesota.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianfort said the BNSF was preparing replacement tracks when the NTSB gives the go-head. “BNSF has assured me that they can line up and run in short order,” he said.
Liberty County Emergency Services Coordinator Sarah Robin said most people on the train were treated and quarantined for their injuries, but five who were more seriously injured were at Benefit Health System Hospital in Great Falls, Montana. Remained as it is. A hospital spokesman said two were in the intensive care unit.
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.