Amtrak derailment in Montana by train from Chicago was going under speed limit; victims killed ID'd

Downstate IL man among Amtrak derailment victims killed

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Amtrak train from Chicago that derailed was going under speed limit
What caused the deadly derailment of an Amtrak train traveling from Chicago?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Federal investigators are trying to figure out how a passenger train in the middle of rural Montana seemingly just falls off the track.

The derailment of the Amtrak train, headed from Chicago to Seattle, killed three people and injured more than 50.

The train was going just under the speed limit at about 75 mph when it went off the track along a gradual curve, killing three people and possibly ejecting passengers, U.S. investigators said Monday.

Two teams from the National Transportation Safety Board are now sifting through the wreckage.

"The locomotive is equipped with a black box and in this case it is a black box, not orange like we have on aircraft, and so that records everything that's going on with the with the vehicle," said Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman of NTSB.

WATCH: Officials give update on train derailment in Montana

Amtrak officials said around 4 p.m. MT, the Empire Builder train 7/27 derailed near Joplin, Montana.

The accident happened not far from Chester, Montana, population 850.

There were 141 passengers and 16 crew members onboard when some of the rail cars suddenly flipped onto their sides, killing 29-year-old Zach Schneider from downstate Illinois. He was traveling to Oregon with his wife. She wasn't hurt.

Also killed in the derailment were Don and Margie Varnadoe from Georgia. They were on train trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

"You've got some cars that are easily 200-300 yards away from some other cars. If you look at the locomotives and you look at the cars of being 80-100 feet, that's the length of the train," said Jim Southworth, NTSB investigator in charge.

DePaul transportation expert Joe Schwieterman told the ABC7 I-Team that it doesn't appear the locomotives caused the derailment because the rail cars didn't accordion. He questions if they may have somehow uncoupled.

"Likely it's something related to the technology of the railroad itself; the undercarriage of the cars, the wheels the axles. You'll have to wait and see but when there's loss of life or a big train like this, it, we really need to get to the bottom of this, prevent it from happening again," said Schwieterman.

One wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in Chicago federal court by the widow of the Illinois man who died. A Philadelphia law firm is handling that case. The I-Team has learned that another passenger has retained the Clifford Law Offices here in Chicago.

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