JOPLIN, Mont .–
At least three people were killed on Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train running between Chicago and Seattle derailed in northern Montana and overturned several cars, authorities said.
The westbound Empire Builder train derailed around 4 p.m. near Joplin, a town of about 200 people, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement. The site of the derailment is about 250 kilometers north of Helena and about 48 kilometers from the Canadian border.
Liberty County Sheriff’s dispatcher Starr Tyler told the Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She did not have any further details. Amtrak said in a statement that there had been multiple injuries.
The train had about 141 passengers and 16 crew members on board, said Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams. The train had two locomotives and ten cars, eight of which were derailed, he said.
“We are deeply saddened to learn that local authorities have now confirmed that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” Abrams said.
Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train who was visiting a friend in Seattle, told the New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.
“My first thought was that we were derailed because I was honestly scared and had heard stories of derailed trains,” said Vandervest of Minneapolis. “My second thought was that this was crazy. We wouldn’t derail. That will not happen.”
She told the Times that the car behind hers had tipped over, the car behind it had completely overturned, and the three cars behind it “fell completely off the tracks and were detached from the train.”
Vandervest said of the Liberty County Senior Center, where passengers were being dropped off, it felt like “extreme turbulence on an airplane.”
Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help passengers.
Chester, Mont., Councilor Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers taken to a local school.
“I went to school and helped with water, food, and wiped dirt off their faces,” she said. “They seemed tired, shaken, but happy to be where they were. Some looked disheveled than others, depending on where they were on the train. “
A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles from the derailment site, and a nearby religious community provided groceries, she said.
The passengers were taken to hotels in nearby Shelby by bus, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local ambulance service and was made aware of the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board will send a team of 14, including investigators and specialists in railway signals and other disciplines, to investigate the crash, spokesman Eric Weiss said.
Weiss said the derailment occurred around 3:55 p.m. and there were no other trains or equipment involved. The train was running on a main track on the BNSF railway at the time, he said.
Photos posted on social media showed wagons on their sides and passengers standing next to the tracks, some with luggage. The images showed a sunny sky and it appeared that the accident occurred on a straight stretch of road.
Amtrak said that due to the derailment, the Empire Builder train going west will end in Minneapolis on Sunday and the Empire Builder train going east will start in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Other recent Amtrak derailments include:
April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were hit and killed by an Amtrak train traveling at over 100 mph in Chester, Pennsylvania. The main locomotive of the train derailed.
March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas, knocking five cars off the tracks and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck had driven onto the track and displaced it by at least a foot before derailing.
October 5, 2015: A passenger train traveling from Vermont to Washington, DC derailed when it encountered rocks that had fallen from a ledge onto the tracks. The locomotive and a passenger car ran down an embankment, derailed three other cars and injured seven people.
– May 12, 2015: Amtrak train 188 was traveling at double the speed limit of 50 mph when it pulled into a sharp turn in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger coaches jumped over the tracks. Several cars rolled over and tore apart.
Hansen reported from Joplin and Hamada reported from Phoenix. Associated Press Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.