Investigators say poor track conditions caused a 2021 Amtrak derailment in Montana that killed three

27 July 2023

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The derailment of an Amtrak train in Montana that killed three people in 2021 was caused by a railroad track that was bent along a curve near the accident site, federal investigators said Thursday in a final report.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s finding Thursday follows an earlier report that identified a bent track near scene of the accident. The poor track conditions included a worn rail, vertical track deflection, misalignment and instability, the report found. It also found that a train inspector’s workload prevented him from doing a walking inspection of the area before the derailment.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder derailed Sept. 25, 2021, in northern Montana while en route from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Oregon, with 154 people on board.

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

Survivors described horrific scenes of people maimed and killed as four cars toppled and skidded down the tracks. Forty-four passengers and crew were taken to area hospitals with injuries.

Thursday’s finding follows what was revealed earlier this year in the agency’s investigative documents. Investigators identified a bent track based on video footage, including from two BNSF freight trains that went around the accident curve within 90 minutes before the Amtrak derailment.

The problem got worse as the freight trains traveled over the area before the crash.

The track is owned by BNSF Railway. The three passengers who died and two who were seriously injured were in, or had just been in, an observation car that ended up on its side, the NTSB said in February.

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

Railroad safety practices have faced renewed scrutiny after a fiery freight train derailment released toxic chemicals in Ohio in February. The crash of a Norfolk Southern train forced evacuations and raised public health concerns.

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