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The New York Times reported that dozens on board were injured, and of those, five were still hospitalized as of Sept. 26. The train, comprising two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, was carrying approximately 141 passengers and 17 crew members, according to Amtrak. The derailment occurred on BNSF tracks approximately 3 miles west of Joplin, which is about 100 miles north of Great Falls, in the vicinity of Buelow, Mont.
Late on Sept. 25, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a statement on Twitter saying it was “launching a go-team” to investigate the derailment; it announced via Twitter on Sept. 26 that a media briefing will be held Sept. 27.
Amtrak has “a team on the ground to fully support the NTSB as they investigate the cause of the derailment,” the railroad said in a Sept. 26 statement.
Also in the statement, Amtrak said:
“We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident. There are also reported injuries among the passengers and crew members traveling on the train. Amtrak is working with the local authorities to transport those who were injured to medical care, and to safely evacuate everyone else at the scene.
“Our Incident Response Team has been initiated, and we are sending emergency personnel and Amtrak leadership to the scene to help support our passengers, our employees and their families with their needs. Individuals with questions about their friends and family aboard this train should call 800-523-9101.”
Image: Courtesy of AP
BNSF issued the following statement to Railway Age on Sept. 26:
“BNSF has confirmed that an Amtrak train derailed on BNSF tracks near Joplin, Mont., at approximately 4 pm local time on Sept. 25, 2021. BNSF is working closely with Amtrak and local authorities and already have personnel on-site. BNSF appreciates the efforts of local first responders who are assisting with this incident. The cause of the incident is under investigation and BNSF will coordinate with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the families of those who lost their lives, as well as the injured. BNSF will provide additional details as they become available.”
According to an Associated Press report on Sept. 27, “Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said BNSF was readying replacement track for when the NTSB gives the go-head. ‘BNSF has assured me they can get the line up and running in short order,’” AP quoted him as saying. AP also reported that “Matt Jones, a BNSF Railway spokesman said at a news conference that the track where the accident occurred was last inspected Thursday [Sept. 23].”
Also investigating the derailment is the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). FRA has dispatched to the scene a team of 18 technical experts “from core safety disciplines including track, motive power and equipment, signal and train control, and operating practices,” Deputy Administrator Amit Bose said in a statement on Sept. 26. “We have initiated a thorough forensic investigation and analysis in support of the National Transportation Safety Board examining all potential causal and contributing factors.”
“The Federal Railroad Administration extends our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and our sincerest hopes for the full and speedy recovery of those injured as a result of the derailment of Amtrak’s Empire Builder Train #7,” Bose said. “Our number one focus is safety, and we are committed to taking all steps necessary to prevent a similar event from occurring again.”
Derailment Investigation Checklist
While cause of the accident is unknown, Railway Age Contributing Editor Jim Blaze provided the following list of “broad areas that the initial inspectors will examine for evidence of both the essential causal condition as well as contributing conditions.” Blaze’s comments are based on his prior accident investigation research work and risk mitigation experience both with colleagues and mentors at Zeta Tech Associates and with the National Association of Railroad Safety Consultants and Investigators (NARSCI).
“My HYPOTHESIS in searching for a cause is that the derailment appears to have occurred within the track space of a track turnout,” Blaze told Railway Age. “Both BNSF experts and either/or both FRA and NTSB experts will comb the actual site for clues such as: • “Turnout metrics wear and tear, missing bolts, and worn switch points not correctly aligned or ‘tight.’ • “Geometry alignment defects through the turnout. • “Track structure issues that might include internal rail defects or poor joint bar connections. • “Train speed (recorded by devices inside the locomotive) through the turnout. • “Possible mechanical car part defects.”
“I’m not citing or prioritizing the actual cause,” Blaze said. “Instead, consider these as a checklist of circumstances to be precisely examined.”
Message from Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn
“We are in mourning today for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train Saturday, near Joplin, Montana, on the BNSF Railway, as well as the many others who were injured,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement issued on Sept. 26. “We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers.
“We are fully cooperating with the investigation, working closely with National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, local law enforcement and response agencies. We share the sense of urgency to understand why the accident happened; however, until the investigation is complete, we will not comment further on the accident itself. The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak commits to taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar accident in the future.
“Amtrak’s immediate and sustained focus is on doing everything we can to help our passengers and crew, especially the families of those who were injured or died, at this painful and difficult time. Our Incident Response Team has been initiated. We have sent emergency personnel and Amtrak leadership to the scene to help support our passengers, our employees and their families with their needs. Individuals with questions about their family and friends aboard this train should call 800-523-9101. We have also established a Family Assistance Center in Great Falls, MT, and we will have family assistance liaisons at that site to reach out to those injured and their families to make sure they get what they need. We have dispatched nurse case managers to support those hospitalized. As soon as Amtrak has permission, we will access the accident site to retrieve the personal effects of our passengers and crew.
“We want to extend our deep gratitude and sincere appreciation to the Joplin and greater Liberty County communities and other Montana counties and their selfless first responders, hospital staff and law enforcement for their immediate and ongoing help to support of all those aboard the Empire Builder for responding with such urgency, compassion and patience.”
Amtrak Service Adjustments
As a result of the derailment, Amtrak on Sept. 26 provided the following service information: “[W]estbound Empire Builder train 7/27, which departed Chicago on Sept. 25, is canceled between Minot, ND (MOT) and Shelby, MT (SBY). Eastbound Empire Builder train 8, which departed Seattle (SEA) on Sept. 25, and Empire Builder train 28, which departed Portland (PDX) on Sept. 25, are also canceled between Shelby, MT (SBY) and Minot, ND (MOT).
“Westbound Empire Builder 7/27 trains scheduled to depart Chicago between Sept. 26-28 will terminate at St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN (MSP). Eastbound Empire Builder train 8, scheduled to depart Seattle Sept. 26-28, will not operate between Seattle and St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN (MSP). Empire Builder train 28, departing Portland (PDX) between Sept. 26-28, will not operate between Portland (PDX) and St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN (MSP). No substitute transportation is currently available. Amtrak customers can contact us at 800-872-7245 to obtain additional information about the status of services.”
Railway Age will update this story as more details become available.
The post Amtrak Empire Builder Derails in Montana (Updated Sept. 27) appeared first on Railway Age.
This article first appeared on www.railwayage.com
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