A Montana Empire Builder 7/27 train derailed on Saturday, killing three people and injuring more than 50. Now, authorities are investigating the train, tracks and crew to see what caused the disaster. While nothing is definite just yet, a former Amtrak conductor turned safety consultant believes that the problem could lie with rail maintenance.
At around 4 p.m. MST, eight out of the ten cars on the Amtrak train derailed from the tracks. The incident occurred while en route to Chicago near Joplin, Montana. The train held a total of 146 passengers and 13 crew members at the time. When authorities arrived on the scene, they confirmed that two cars carrying passengers completely detached from the rest of the locomotive and slid down a 30-foot embankment. It was because of this detachment that three passengers died and five others are in the hospital in stable condition.
According to former Amtrak conductor Michael Callahan, the investigation regarding the cause could take up to two years. However, he has already developed some theories of his own. The first revolves around the conditions of the tracks themselves. Back when Callahan used to man the train, he probably saw his own fair share of beat-up tracks. According to an interview with Daily Mail, the former Amtrak conductor confirmed that multiple have put off expensive installations and petitioned for more time to complete them. That includes “Positive Train Control,” a satellite-controlled system that stops trains before an accident occurs.
However, BNSF Railway spokesperson Matt Jones stated during a news conference that this theory doesn’t hold much weight. According to Jones, inspectors checked the site where the accident occurred last Thursday.
Former Amtrak Conductor’s Second Theory Involves Human Error
Callahan also had a second theory regarding the reason behind Saturday’s accident. The former Amtrak conductor claimed that it was a “distinct possibility” that human error caused the train to derail. After an initial inspection of the scene, Callahan noted the close proximity of the train to a stop signal. He believed that sudden braking to avoid passing the signal could have caused the train to run off-track. In order to prove this theory, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will have to check the logistics of the locomotive at the time of the accident.
“They’re going to download a black box [that] measures everything – what position the throttle was in, what kind of breaks were put on, how fast he was going,” Callanan shared.
Part of the NTSB’s investigation will also involve interviewing all passengers and staff aboard the Amtrak at the time, including the current conductor. Investigators will also administer a test for drugs and alcohol for all employees.
“They’re going to download the dashcam, they’re going to drug test the whole crew to see if there were any drugs and alcohol involved,” the former conductor continued.