JOPLIN, Mont. — Federal officials sent a team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board to the site of an Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that killed three people and left seven hospitalized, Sunday, officials said.
The westbound Empire Builder was en route to Seattle from Chicago, with two locomotives and 10 cars, when it left the tracks about 4 p.m. Saturday near Joplin, a town of about 200.
The train was carrying about 141 passengers and 16 crew members and had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.
A 14-member team including investigators and specialists in railroad signals would look into the cause of the derailment on a BNSF Railway main track that involved no other trains or equipment, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.
Law enforcement said the officials from the NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF had arrived at the accident scene just west of Joplin, where the tracks cut through vast, golden brown wheat fields that were recently harvested. Several large cranes were brought to the tracks that run roughly parallel to US Highway 2, along with a truckload of gravel and new railroad ties.
From a distance, several rail cars could still be seen on their sides.
The accident scene is about 150 miles northeast of Helena and about 30 miles from the Canadian border.
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn expressed condolences to the victims and said the company is working with the NTSB, Federal Railroad Administration and local law enforcement, sharing their “sense of urgency” to determine what happened.
“However, until the investigation is complete, we will not comment further on the accident itself,” Flynn said in the statement. “The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak commits to taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar accident in the future.”
Most of those on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five who were more seriously hurt remained at the Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls, Montana, said Sarah Robbin, Liberty County emergency services coordinator. Two were in the ICU, another spokeswoman said.
Working as late as about 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Robbin said emergency crews struggled without success to cut open cars with special tools, “so they did have to manually carry out many of the passengers that could not walk.”
Another two people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, Montana, spokeswoman Melody Sharpton said.