At least three dead after Amtrak train derails in Montana

The incident took place about 30 miles from the Canadian border.

people work at the scene of an Amtrak train derailment
people work at the scene of an Amtrak train derailment

At least three people have died after an Amtrak train operating between Seattle and Chicago derailed in north-central Montana.

The westbound Empire Builder train derailed at about 4pm (11pm UK time) on Saturday near Joplin, a town of about 200 people, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement.

The accident scene is about 150 miles north of Helena and about 30 miles from the border with Canada.

Liberty County sheriff’s dispatcher Starr Tyler told the Associated Press that three people died in the derailment.

The scene of an Amtrak train derailment in north-central Montana
The scene of the Amtrak train derailment in north-central Montana (Kimberly Fossen via AP)

Amtrak said in a statement that there were multiple injuries.

The train had about 146 passengers and 16 crew members onboard, Mr Abrams said.

It consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars, with seven of those cars derailing, he added.

Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train 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 about trains derailing,” said Ms Vandervest, who is from Minneapolis.

“My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.”

She told the newspaper that the car behind hers was tilted over, the one behind that was entirely tipped over, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train”.

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

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

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 dishevelled than others, depending where they were on the train.”

People work at the scene of an Amtrak train derailment in north-central Montana
People work at the scene of the derailment (Kimberly Fossen via AP)

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 buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ms Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the crash.

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

Mr Weiss said the derailment occurred at around 3.55pm local time and no other trains or equipment were involved.

The train was traveling on a BNSF Railway main track at the time, he said.

Photos posted to social media showed rail cars on their sides and passengers standing alongside the tracks, some carrying luggage.

The images showed sunny skies and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.

Amtrak said that because of the derailment, the Sunday westbound Empire Builder will terminate in Minneapolis, and the Sunday eastbound Empire Builder train will originate in Minneapolis.

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