- The westbound Empire Builder train with 141 passengers and 16 crew members derailed near Joplin.
- Eight of the train’s 10 cars toppled off the tracks.
- The tragedy occurred at the end of Rail Safety Week.
Amtrak was joining with federal safety officials Sunday to investigate a Montana train derailment that left at least three people dead and rural communities scrambling to provide food and shelter to the stunned survivors.
The westbound Empire Builder train with 141 passengers and 16 crew members derailed Saturday afternoon near Joplin, a town of less than 200 people just a few miles from the Canadian border. The tragedy occurred as Amtrak was closing out its nationwide, annual Rail Safety Week.
Liberty County sheriff’s dispatcher Starr Tyler confirmed the deaths, saying there also were multiple injuries.
Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said eight of the train’s 10 cars toppled off the tracks, some of them sitting on their sides when the Seattle-bound train out of Chicago came to a halt.
“We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” Abrams said in a statement. “We have a team on the ground to fully support the NTSB as they investigate the cause of the derailment.”
Amanda Frickel, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Hill County, Mont., told The New York Times that “well over” 50 people had been injured.
“Every county around is assisting,” Toole County Sheriff Donna Whitt told the Times.
Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train, tweeted in the moments after the wreck that she was not injured.
“Everyone in our party is okay. Unsure if the status of everyone on the train,” she tweeted. “We’re currently waiting to be bussed away from the scene.”
Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said about 60 passengers were brought to a local school where they were able to clean up and get food and water. Many passengers were bused to hotels in Shelby, 50 miles west of Joplin.
Gov. Greg Gianforte said he was monitoring the investigation.
“Please join me in praying for all involved and the first responders on the ground,” Gianforte tweeted.
To mark Rail Safety Week, which ran from Sept. 20 until Sunday, Amtrak announced that nearly 500 police and sheriff’s departments across 43 states and the District of Columbia were joining its own Police Department and an organization called Operation Lifesaver to conduct “Operation Clear Track.” The fifth annual event aimed at enforcing state grade crossing and trespassing laws while raising awareness on the importance of making “safe choices near railroad tracks and crossings.”
Operation Clear Track was created to help reduce the approximately 2,000 serious injuries and deaths that occur each year on the nation’s railroad tracks, Amtrak said.
Contributing: The Associated Press