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Safety expert says Amtrak derailment which killed 3 could have been caused by sudden braking

A rail safety consultant has suggested that the train derailment that killed three people and wounded 50 in Montana on Saturday night could have been caused by the driver ‘jamming on’ the locomotive’s breaks to avoid running a stop signal. 

Eight cars out of the 10 cars on Amtrak’s Empire Builder 7/27 train derailed as it carried 141 passengers and 16 crew members from Chicago to Seattle, according to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.

Two train cars separated and slid down a 30 foot embankment, and police confirmed that three passengers onboard died. As of Sunday afternoon, five passengers are still hospitalized, but are in stable condition.

It is currently unclear what caused the crash. 

Former Amtrak conductor turned safety consultant Michael Callanan told Dailymail.com that there is a ‘distinct possibility’ that sudden braking was a factor, based on the proximity of a stop signal to the site of the crash. 

He said another explanation could be ill-maintained tracks.

BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks where the crash occurred, and Amtrak, which owns the train, are looking into the derailment, alongside federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Matt Jones, a BNSF Railway spokesman said at a news conference that the track where the accident occurred was last inspected on Thursday. 

Per the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, all trains must install ‘Positive Train Control,’ a satellite-controlled system that automatically stops a locomotive before accidents occur.

However, Callanan said that a number of railroads have put off the expensive installations and petitioned government officials for more time. 

This aerial view taken Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, shows an Amtrak train that derailed in north-central Montana Saturday that killed multiple people and left others hospitalized, officials said. The westbound Empire Builder was en route to Seattle from Chicago, with two locomotives and 10 cars, when it left the tracks about 4 p.m. Saturday. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Three people are dead and more than 50 are injured after an Amtrak train carrying 146 passengers and 13 crew derailed in Montana on Saturday afternoon

Three people are dead and more than 50 are injured after an Amtrak train carrying 146 passengers and 13 crew derailed in Montana on Saturday afternoon

Crews appear to be using ladders to get on top of the cars in what appears to be an rescue effort. Ambulances and emergency vehicles are on the scene

Crews appear to be using ladders to get on top of the cars in what appears to be an rescue effort. Ambulances and emergency vehicles are on the scene

Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he didn’t want to speculate but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.

Railways have ‘virtually eliminated’ major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said.

‘I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,’ Zarembski said. 

 It is unclear whether the Empire Builder 7/27 was outfitted with PTC equipment.

The National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday it is launching a 14-member ‘go team’ to investigate the derailment.

Callanan told MailOnline that the number of agencies involved is one of the elements that will stretch out that investigation, which he said could take up to two years. 

Passengers crawled down ladders to safety as rescue teams assisted

Passengers crawled down ladders to safety as rescue teams assisted 

Passengers said that the derailed cars on the track near Joplin, Montana, have left some passengers trapped inside

One passenger said she heard a boom and felt the carriage 'pitching violently side-to-side'

Passengers said that the derailed cars on the track near Joplin, Montana, have left some passengers trapped inside. One passenger said she heard a boom and felt the carriage ‘pitching violently side-to-side’

‘They’re going to download a black box [that] measures everything – what position the throttle was in, what kind of breaks were put on, how fast he was going,’ Callanan said. 

‘They’re going to download the dash cam, they’re going to drug test the whole crew to see if there was any drugs and alcohol involved.’

He said that the National Transportation Safety Board will ‘take that train to a warehouse, piece everything together and test every part of the train – every car, [and the] breaks on every car.’

At least three cars are derailed and two have separated from the train

At least three cars are derailed and two have separated from the train 

The last train car was completely on its side from the derailment

The last train car was completely on its side from the derailment 

Witnesses – each person who was riding the train and anyone who can be found that saw the crash from outside the train – will all be interviewed by the agencies.

Meanwhile, during the long-spanning investigation, all of the employees who were manning that train will be ‘taken out of service.’  

Amtrak employees have the option to buy into insurance, he said, but most don’t.

He added: ‘Hopefully the employees that did not pay into that have money saved up.’

Amtrak said in a statement Sunday: ‘We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,’ 

Amanda Frickel, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Hill County, Montana told The New York Times ‘well over’ 50 people are injured. 

She added that six counties sent rescuers and five hospitals are on standby to accept patients. Several helicopters are on standby, as well. 

 Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a local school.

‘I went to the school and assisted with water, food, wiping dirt off faces,’ she said. ‘They appeared to be tired, shaken but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending where they were on the train.’

A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.

The passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the crash.   

Amtrak also reported they are working with local authorities to help those who are injured. 

Amtrak's Empire Builder 7/27 train has reported derailed near Joplin, Montana. Leaving several passengers trapped

Passengers are reporting on Twitter that some are injured, although the severity is not known at this time. Passengers are waiting on buses to pick them up

Amtrak’s Empire Builder 7/27 train has reported derailed near Joplin, Montana. Leaving several passengers trapped 

The train spread across two tracks. It is believed the accident happened near a switch

The train spread across two tracks. It is believed the accident happened near a switch 

 ‘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,’ Jason Abrams. Amtrak’s Public Relations Manager said in a statement.     

Passengers said that the derailed cars on the track near Joplin, Montana, have left some passengers trapped inside. 

One passenger said she heard a boom and felt the carriage ‘pitching violently side-to-side,’ according to CBS. 

Another passenger Megan Vandervest was asleep when the train derailed. 

‘My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing,’ she told The New York Times. ‘My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.’

She described the feeling as ‘extreme turbulence on a plane,’ but was among the lucky ones whose train car stayed on the tracks.   

However, the cars behinds hers weren’t. Three cars back, was completely off the track, the one in front of that was toppled over, while the one behind her was tilted, she told the Times. 

There were approximately 146 passengers and 13 crew members onboard. 

Some passengers are being transported to Liberty Community And Senior Center.  

‘We’re going our best,’ the spokesperson from the senior center said.

The state’s medical supplies are low and beds are limited in hospitals due to COVID-19. 

The train’s derailment is suspected to have happened between the Havre and Shelby stops in Montana, according to KXLY

It is suspected that the train derailed near the switch at East Buelow. The cause of the derailment is not clear.  

Amtrak, The National Transportation Safety Board, and NTSB, who owns the tracks, are investigating the cause for the derailment

Amtrak, The National Transportation Safety Board, and NTSB, who owns the tracks, are investigating the cause for the derailment

One car flipped over. Some of the cars slid down a 30 foot embankment

One car flipped over. Some of the cars slid down a 30 foot embankment 

 Crews set up ladders on the side of the cars in what appears to be a rescue effort to safely remove passengers.   

One Twitter user Emily Rose reported her boyfriend’s grandfather was on the train that flipped. She cited that he has ‘cuts and bruises’ but ‘is okay.’ 

A firefighter told KXLY  that rescue crews were reporting ‘large amounts of people trapped.’  

Empire Builder trains 7/27 and 8/28 are cancelled for services until at least September 28 between Minot, North Dakota, and Shelby, Montana.  

Amtrak’s previous crashes which caused deadly derailment in Washington and Philidelphia 

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are trying to determine the cause of the Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that killed three people aboard the Empire Builder, traveling from Chicago to Seattle.

The train, carrying about 141 passengers and a crew of 16, left the tracks about 4 p.m. Saturday near Joplin, Montana, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border.

Other recent Amtrak accidents:

– Dec. 18, 2017: Three people were killed and 10 seriously injured in a derailment near Olympia, Washington, in which part of the train landed on Interstate 5. The train was traveling more than 80 mph during its inaugural run of a newly opened, faster rail line when it left the tracks.

– April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train going more than 100 mph in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead engine of the train derailed.

– March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas, sending five cars off the tracks and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track and shifted it at least a foot before the derailment.

– Oct. 5, 2015: A passenger train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled down 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 sharp 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 cars jumped the tracks. Several cars overturned and ripped apart.

 




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