A team of investigators, including engineers and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, are in Montana to look into what caused an Amtrak train to derail near Lake McDonald, 20 miles east of Missoula, according to local news reports.
Doubts about how the tragedy transpired were raised when a Newsradio KQMT interview with Chief Greg Brewer of the Missoula Fire Department on Monday revealed an Amtrak engineer not wearing a seatbelt when the train struck a jackknifed flatbed truck. John Gimlette, a longtime railroad expert in Chicago, told us that the distance between the jackknifed truck and the train was not close enough to warrant a seatbelt.
But when asked if passengers were shocked by the crash, Mary Cleave, CEO of the Foundation for A Safe Corridor, a nonprofit in Michigan that seeks to improve railroad safety, said that “most people were bewildered at first.” Then, survivors began to “debrief,” she told us. “We have a pretty professional railroad crew. They helped those with neurological disabilities.”
“It could be a mechanical or signal failure,” she said.
The train was headed for Portland, Oregon, and was carrying 119 passengers and eight crew members. Of the 48 people sent to hospitals after the crash, four were in serious condition.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday that the condition of the train’s lead locomotive was unknown, but passenger advocates said the engineering systems of trains should not be left to an engineer alone.
“Over a four-mile stretch of track, it is only possible for one train to reach speeds of above the speed limit on each track,” Joe Williams, a railroad safety advocate, said. “And when engine power is absent, the train will proceed at that speed.”
Read more about the crash from the railroad industry and from The Washington Post:
Amtrak train headed to Portland, Ore., derailed near Missoula, Montana, killing three people and injuring 50
Amtrak: Train engine’s condition unclear after deadly derailment in Montana
Passengers flee as Amtrak train derails near Missoula, Montana
Amtrak to review train dispatch records after deadly crash in Montana