LARRY MAYER / AP
JOPLIN, Mont. – A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was at the site of an Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that killed three people and left seven hospitalized Sunday, authorities said.
The West empire builder He was en route from Chicago to Seattle when he left the tracks around 4 p.m. Saturday near Joplin, a city of about 200 people.
Trevor Fossen was the first to appear. The Joplin resident was on a dirt road near the tracks Saturday when he saw “a wall of dust” about 300 feet high.
“I started looking at that, wondering what it was and then I saw that the train had capsized and derailed,” said Fossen, who called 911 and began trying to get people out. He called on his brother to bring ladders for people who couldn’t get off after exiting through the windows of the cars that were resting on their sides.
The train was carrying about 141 passengers and 16 crew members and had two locomotives and 10 carriages, eight of which derailed, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.
A 14-member team, including investigators and railway signal specialists, would investigate the cause of the derailment on a main BNSF railroad track that did not involve other trains or equipment, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.
Law enforcement officials said officials from the NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF had arrived at the crash site west of Joplin, where the tracks cut through vast fields of recently harvested golden brown wheat. Several large cranes were brought onto the tracks that run roughly parallel to US Highway 2, along with a truckload of gravel and new railroad ties.
Several carriages could still be seen alongside it.
The scene of the accident is about 150 miles northeast of Helena and about 30 miles from the Canadian border.
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn expressed his condolences to those who lost loved ones and said the company is working with the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration and local law enforcement, sharing their “sense of urgency” to determine what it happened.
“The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak is committed to taking appropriate action to prevent a similar accident in the future,” Flynn said in the statement.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said the BNSF was preparing the replacement track for when the NTSB gives the go-ahead. “BNSF has assured me that they can get the line up and running in no time,” he said.
Railroad safety expert David Clarke, director of the University of Tennessee Transportation Research Center, said photos from the accident scene show that the derailment occurred on or near a change, which is where the railroad passes a turn. single track to a double track.
Clarke said the two locomotives and the two carriages at the front of the train reached the fork and continued on the main track, but the remaining eight carriages derailed. He said it was unclear if some of the last cars made it to track two.
“Did the switch play any role? It could have been that the front of the train pressed the switch and it started to collapse and that turned the rear of the train around,” Clarke said.
Another possibility was a defect in the rail, Clarke said, noting that regular tests don’t always detect such problems. He said speed was not a likely factor because the trains on that line have systems that prevent excessive speeds and collisions.
Matt Jones, a spokesman for the BNSF Railway, told a news conference that the road where the accident occurred was last inspected on Thursday.
Due to the derailment, Sunday’s westbound Chicago Empire Builder will terminate in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the eastbound train will originate in Minnesota.
Most of those riding 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, county emergency services coordinator. by Liberty. Two were in the intensive care unit, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Two other people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, Montana, spokeswoman Melody Sharpton said.
Robbin said emergency crews struggled unsuccessfully to open the cars with special tools, “so they had to manually carry many of the passengers who were unable to walk.”
Liberty County Sheriff Nick Erickson said the names of the dead will not be released until family members are notified.
Kimberly Fossen / AP
Robbin said nearby residents were quick to offer help when the derailment occurred.
“We are very fortunate to live where we are, where neighbors help neighbors,” he said.
“The locals have been so amazing and accommodating,” passenger Jacob Cordeiro said on Twitter. “They gave us wonderful food, drinks and hospitality. Nothing like that when the best comes together after a tragedy.”
Cordeiro, who is from Rhode Island, just graduated from college and was traveling with his father to Seattle to celebrate.
“I was in one of the front cars and they pushed us a lot, they threw us from one side of the train to the other,” he told MSNBC. He said the car went off the tracks, but did not fall.
“I’m a pretty big guy and he lifted me out of the chair and threw me against one wall and then he threw me against the other,” Cordeiro said.
Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped between 50 and 60 passengers who were taken to a school. “
A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, he said.
Allan Zarembski, director of the Railroad Engineering and Safety Program at the University of Delaware, said he did not want to speculate, but suspected that the derailment was due to a problem with the train track, equipment, or both.
The railways have “practically eliminated” major derailments by human error following the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said. He said the NTSB’s findings could take months.
Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw rail accident investigations for several years at the NTSB, said the agency will not rule out human error or any other potential causes for now.
“There are still human performance issues vetted by the NTSB to make sure the people doing the work are qualified, rested and doing it right,” Chipkevich said.
Chipkevich said that track conditions have historically been a major cause of train accidents, noting that most of the tracks used by Amtrak are owned by freight rail and must rely on those companies for safety maintenance.