Montana Amtrak crash: Bent track a factor

Helena, Mon. –

Investigators investigating a fatal Amtrak derailment in Montana in 2021 revealed Tuesday that a railroad track had bent along a curve near the crash site.

Details of the crooked track were included in hundreds of pages of investigative documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigations show that the three passengers who died and two who were seriously injured were, or had recently been, in an overturned observation vehicle.

Railroad safety practices face renewed scrutiny after a severe freight train derailment in Ohio released toxic chemicals. The Norfolk Southern Railroad crash on February 3 forced evacuations and raised public health concerns.

Investigators identified track problems based on video footage, including from two BNSF freight trains that had bypassed the accident curve 90 minutes before the Amtrak derailment.

Investigators reported that the bend in the track seemed to get worse each time a freight train passed. Neither freight train crew was aware of the problem.

“Neither Amtrak engineers noticed the track slippage before moving that section of track. I was able to see the first shift just seconds before it moved over it,” investigators said.

They never determined the ultimate cause of the accident.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder derailed on Sept. 25, 2021 in northern Montana en route from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Oregon with 154 people on board. The tracks are owned by He BNSF Railways.

According to the NTSB, the train was traveling just below the 79 miles per hour (127 kilometers per hour) speed limit when the emergency brakes were activated.

Amtrak spokesperson Mark Magliari declined to comment on the track’s issues raised in the report.

Survivors described a terrifying scene in which four cars overturned and skidded on the tracks, leaving people injured and dead.Forty-four passengers and crew were taken to local hospitals with injuries. rice field.

First responders and residents of the rural plains near the crash site banded together to transport injured passengers to Chester, Montana, where they gave them food and other assistance.

Those killed in the accident were Georgia couple Margie and Don Vardahoe, who were on a cross-country trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, and software developer Zachariah Schneider, 28, from Illinois.

David Clarke, a railroad safety expert at the University of Tennessee, said in an NTSB report that track misalignment can “certainly” cause derailments.

Former NTSB investigator Robert Chipkevich, who had not reviewed the findings of the 2021 crash, said the problems with the track were the quality of maintenance and repairs, the integrity of the ballast material under the rails, and excessive summer heat. Said it could be caused by issues such as heat.

“Those conditions could certainly change after a heavy freight train has passed,” Chipkevich said. “If the crew doesn’t realize it, it could change because there’s a multi-ton train crossing there.”

Vardahhoes was reportedly in the forecourt, the space between the observation car and the carriages behind it, when a derailment occurred and he was thrown from the train. 74-year-old Don Vadahoe was crushed under an observation car and 72-year-old Margie Vadahoe was reportedly hit by equipment along the track, sustaining fatal injuries to his head.

Investigators discovered that all but two of the observation car windows had fallen off during the derailment, and that the other deceased, 28-year-old Schneider, and three others were forced out of the car. rice field.

Attorneys for the Vardahoe and Schneider estates did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Tuesday.

Schneider was dragged or rolled to the ground. Another man in the observation car was said to have been seriously injured and had his prosthetic leg stuck under the car. When the train stopped, a couple in the observation car fell out of the window and into the gap between the side of the car and the ground. The man was seriously injured.

In the United States, railroad accidents, including derailments, are on the decline as train mileage decreases.

But according to the Federal Railroad Administration, the accident rate per mile is on the rise. The rail union has argued that rail transport has become more risky in recent years following widespread job cuts. Most railroad accidents involve freight trains, and fatalities involving passenger trains are rare.

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