At least 3 dead in Amtrak Empire Builder train derailment in Montana

JOPLIN, Mont. – At least three people were killed Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train that runs from Seattle to Chicago derailed in north-central Montana, knocking several cars onto its side, authorities said.

The westbound Empire Builder train derailed around 4 p.m. near Joplin, a town of about 200 residents, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement. The crash site is approximately 150 miles (241 kilometers) northeast of Helena and approximately 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border with Canada.

Liberty County Sheriff’s dispatcher Starr Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She didn’t have more details. Amtrak said in a statement that there had been several injuries.

The train had around 141 passengers and 16 crew on board, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said. The train had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, he said.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that local authorities now confirm that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” said Abrams.

Megan Vandervest, a passenger who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, told the New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories of trains going off the rails,” said Vandervest, from Minneapolis. “My second thought was, it’s crazy. We wouldn’t be going off the rails. Like, that doesn’t happen.”

She told The Times that the car behind hers was tilted, the one behind that had overturned, and the three cars behind that “completely fell off the rails and pulled away from the train.”

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

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

Chester City Councilor Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped around 50 to 60 passengers who were taken to a local school.

“I went to school and helped with water, food, wiping dirt from faces,” she said. “They looked tired, shaken up but happy to be where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending on where they were on the train.”

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

The passengers were taken by bus to hotels near Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and has been alerted to the crash.

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

Weiss said the derailment occurred around 3:55 p.m. and no other train or equipment was involved. The train was running on a main line of the BNSF railway at the time, he said.

Photos posted on social media showed wagons on their side and passengers standing along the tracks, some carrying luggage. The footage showed sunny skies and it appeared that the accident had occurred along a straight section of track.

Amtrak said that due to the derailment, the Sunday Westbound Empire Builder will end in Minneapolis, and the Sunday Eastbound Empire Builder train will depart 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 southwestern 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 30 cm before the derailment.

– October 5, 2015: A passenger train from Vermont to Washington, DC derailed when it struck rocks that had fallen on the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled onto 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 when it entered a tight bend in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven cars hit the tracks. Several cars overturned and torn apart.


Hamada reported from Phoenix. Associated Press Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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