The Day – At least 3 dead in Amtrak passenger train derailment

JOPLIN, Mont. (AP) — At least three people were killed Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train that connects Seattle to Chicago derailed in north-central Montana, a Liberty County Sheriff’s Office official said.

Dispatcher Starr Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She had no further details. Amtrak said in a statement there were multiple injuries.

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

The train had about 146 passengers and 16 crew on board, Abrams said.

The train consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars, seven of which derailed, he said.

Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, told The New York Times she was woken up by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were going off the rails because, to be honest, I was anxious and had heard stories of trains going off the rails,” said Vandervest, a Minneapolis native. “My second thought was that it was crazy. We would not derail. Like, it’s not happening.

She told The Times that the car behind hers was overturned, the one behind which was completely overturned, and the three cars behind which “had completely fallen off the tracks and detached from the train”.

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

Amtrak was working with local authorities to transport injured passengers and safely evacuate all other passengers, Abrams added.

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

Five Amtrak cars derailed around 3:55 p.m. mountain daylight time, and no other trains or equipment were involved, Weiss said. The train was running on a BNSF railway main line at the time, he said.

Photos posted on social media showed several cars on the side. Passengers stood along the tracks, some carrying luggage.

The footage showed sunny skies and it appeared the accident happened along a straight section of tracks.

Amtrak said that due to the derailment, the westbound Sunday Empire Builder train will terminate in Minneapolis and the eastbound Sunday Empire Builder train will depart from Minneapolis.

Other recent Amtrak derailments include:

— April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train traveling 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 southwest 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 a foot prior to the derailment.

— October 5, 2015: A passenger train heading from Vermont to Washington, DC, derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car rolled over 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 steep 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 carriages jumped off the tracks. Several cars overturned and tore up.

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Associated Press Tom Krisher contributed to this report.

Jose P. Rogers