Amtrak Empire Builder Derails in Montana (Updated, 12:30 p.m. ET)
The New York Times reported that more than 50 of the approximately 141 passengers and 17 crew members on board were injured. The train, comprising two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, was running on BNSF tracks, according to Amtrak.
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.
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.”
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.”
Derailment Investigation Checklist
While the cause of the derailment has not yet been determined, 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. Both BNSF experts and either/or both FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] 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 told Railway Age. “Instead, consider these as a checklist of circumstances to be precisely examined.”
As a result of the derailment, Amtrak on Sept. 26 provided the following service information: “Empire Builder trains 7/27 and 8/28 originating on Saturday, Sept. 25, are cancelled between Minot, N.D. (MOT) and Shelby, Mont. (SBY). Additionally, on Sunday, Sept. 26, westbound Empire Builder train 7 will terminate in Minneapolis (MSP) and eastbound Empire Builder train 8 will originate in Minneapolis (MSP). No substitute transportation is 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 information becomes available.
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