3 dead in Amtrak train derailment

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At least three people were killed and multiple others were injured when an Amtrak train derailed in remote northern Montana on Saturday, sending several cars toppling over, authorities said.

Eight cars on the train, Empire Builder 7/27, which was headed from Chicago to Seattle, derailed at about 4 p.m. local time near Joplin, Montana, according to Amtrak. The rail line confirmed there were injuries to passengers and crew members, but offered no more details.

The three deaths were confirmed by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department. Officials did not say how many total were injured.

There were approximately 141 passengers and 16 crew members on the train, Amtrak said.

Several passengers shared images of the front cars off the track, with some tipped on their sides.

One passenger, Megan Vandervest, told ABC News in a telephone interview early Sunday that she was taking a nap in a sleeper car near the front of the train when she was jolted awake.

“I woke up to the train derailing. It was very bumpy, like extreme turbulence and very loud noises, and it kind of smelled of smoke,” Vandervest said. “And so my first thought was that we were derailing. And then I thought that was crazy. There was no way that we could possibly be derailing. That’s insane.”

She said the train slowly came to a stop, and she initially thought they had gone over a stretch of “bumpy track.”

“Then we kind of looked out our car, and you could see that one of the cars, the car behind us, had been tilted so that (you) couldn’t see down the hallway anymore,” Vandervest said.

She said she and other passengers were evacuated within 10 minutes of the derailment.

“It wasn’t until you really got out of the train fully that we knew the extent of what had happened. It was definitely like an incredible shock,” Vandervest said.

She described a “chaotic” scene outside the train as passengers emerged from tipped-over cars dazed, confused and injured. She said one of the toppled cars was the observation car.

“The people who had been in some of the tipped-over cars that had gotten out were definitely just in shock and sitting there, and the rest of us were kind of just waiting for what would happen,” Vandervest said.

She said passengers were taken by bus to a senior center in a nearby town, where she was able to call a cousin who lives in Montana to come and pick her up.

Vandervest said she spoke to passengers who were in the tipped-over cars and they described holding on for life.

“They held on really tightly. And others were less fortunate for the positions that they were. If they were by windows, it was more dangerous,” she said. “One passenger I talked to, he had kind of gotten out of the observation car that had been completely tipped over that he was in and that there was another passenger outside that asked him to go back and check for someone else. He went back in and, unfortunately, they were pretty badly injured.”

Amtrak said in a statement that anyone with questions about friends or family who were traveling on the train can call (800) 523-9101.

“We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” Amtrak’s statement reads.

It was not immediately clear what caused the derailment.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it is launching a “go team” to investigate the derailment.

Liberty County is an extremely rural part of northern Montana, with only a few thousand residents, despite being larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.

Great Falls is the largest nearby city, about 100 miles south of Joplin. The state capital of Helena is about three hours south of Joplin by car.

ABC News’ Stefan Joyce and Matt Foster contributed to this report.