On Saturday, September 25th, at least three people passed away and 50 others were injured after an Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana. Roughly 141 passengers and crew members were on board the Empire Builder train when the derailment occurred. The train consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars and was headed west.
Immediately following the accident, rescue teams from six counties rushed to the scene and began extricating passengers and crew members from the wreck. Montana Highway Patrol troopers assisted the rescue efforts. Survivors were evacuated to two separate sites and housed in hotels until their medical needs were met. As many as five hospitals were on standby to receive injured passengers and medical helicopters were standing by.
The cause of the Amtrak derailment is currently unknown and under investigation at the time of writing this article. The National Transportation Safety Board has stated on Twitter that it was launching a “go-team” to investigate the derailment. This investigation will be based in Great Falls, Montana.
According to one passenger who was on board during the derailment, three cars ended up detaching from the train entirely during the accident and fell off the tracks while another was tipped over and more were left tilting.
Amtrak train derailments are rare, but they can and do happen. When they do occur, they are often deadly due to the combined speed of the train paired with the immense weight of the cars falling off the tracks. Since trains take a long time to stop, it is almost impossible for an operator to stop the train quick enough to avoid all forms of injury if a car is suddenly thrown off the tracks.
In 2018, three people died when an Amtrak train traveled on the wrong track in South Carolina and collided into a freight train that was parked. Also that same year, a train carrying members of Congress slammed into a garbage truck in Virginia, killing one of the passengers in the truck. In 2015, an Amtrak train traveling at twice the speed limit flew off a curve in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring 200 more.
Thorough investigations after train derailments like these are crucial to stopping future derailments. In many train accidents, unfortunately, negligence by the operator or company is often a cause.