Empire Builder accident (9/25/21)

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Cascadia

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 19, 2007
Messages
603
Location
Washington
Steve Lookner at Agenda Free TV on YouTube is covering this in a livestream right now, curating from various news sources and twitter feeds and educating himself about the Empire Builder as he goes along, he always does a good job
 

Rasputin

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 17, 2019
Messages
1,063
Sadly this is not the first time there has been a passenger train accident at Buelow which has resulted in multiple fatalities. The earlier one, if I recall correctly was a head-on around 1964 between two Great Northern passenger trains (can't recall which ones offhand) and it was far worse (14 killed seems to come to mind.) Corrections would be welcome.
 

Cal

Foamer
Joined
Jan 23, 2021
Messages
3,192
Location
Socal
Sadly this is not the first time there has been a passenger train accident at Buelow which has resulted in multiple fatalities. The earlier one, if I recall correctly was a head-on around 1964 between two Great Northern passenger trains (can't recall which ones offhand) and it was far worse (14 killed seems to come to mind.) Corrections would be welcome.
Wow.
 

WWW

No real RR Job
AU Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Nov 18, 2018
Messages
326
Location
MSP
Horrible news. And those photos. We always tell ourselves that the train is the safest way to travel, and it's true, but that only makes it more disturbing when something like this happens. How many times have we all banged over a switch at 79 mph?
Banged over a switch - going thru on the main track ? OR ? taking the switch at high speed * I don't think so even looking at the angle of the switches
on that siding (Google Map) would required a reduction in speed and note the curvature of the double track - - -

Google Maps

Zoom In or Out - Pan right or left
 
  • Like
Reactions: Cal

NSC1109

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 14, 2016
Messages
490
Location
MI
Honestly looks like the switch got picked given the location and how the train derailed.
This is pure speculation, but given my experiences recently working for a Class I, I would be willing to bet that the switch was slightly gapped (meaning the point wasn’t totally flush with the rail) and then a car with a thin flange picked it.

Prayers for the three families who lost their loved ones today.
 

Cal

Foamer
Joined
Jan 23, 2021
Messages
3,192
Location
Socal
Steve Lookner at Agenda Free TV on YouTube is covering this in a livestream right now, curating from various news sources and twitter feeds and educating himself about the Empire Builder as he goes along, he always does a good job
Eh, I mean they aren't too knowledgeable on Amtrak, so I don't think theres anything i can get there that I can't get here
 

WWW

No real RR Job
AU Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Nov 18, 2018
Messages
326
Location
MSP
Sadly this is not the first time there has been a passenger train accident at Buelow which has resulted in multiple fatalities. The earlier one, if I recall correctly was a head-on around 1964 between two Great Northern passenger trains (can't recall which ones offhand) and it was far worse (14 killed seems to come to mind.) Corrections would be welcome.
Could this have been the 1945 crash ?

Train Wreck of 1945 - Michigan, North Dakota (michigannd.com)
 

Rasputin

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 17, 2019
Messages
1,063
No, it was a head-on at Buelow, Montana around 1964, maybe 1962.
I need to correct myself. The prior accident at Buelow was on March 7, 1966 following I believe a two day blizzard. The engineer of the Empire Builder and the engineer of a Passenger Extra were both killed and there were many injuries but no other fatalities. Great Northern President John M. Budd was a passenger on one of the trains (back when management actually rode their trains.) Sorry for the incorrect information in my earlier post.
 

cocojacoby

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
May 13, 2014
Messages
599
Location
Boston & Florida
Honestly looks like the switch got picked given the location and how the train derailed.
This is pure speculation, but given my experiences recently working for a Class I, I would be willing to bet that the switch was slightly gapped (meaning the point wasn’t totally flush with the rail) and then a car with a thin flange picked it.
Yeah, most of the train (or at least half) got through okay so I think you are right. Very sad and condolences to anyone involved.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,658
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Yeah, most of the train (or at least half) got through okay so I think you are right. Very sad and condolences to anyone involved.
According to Amtrak, 7 cars out of 10 derailed.


Remember, the original derailment started somewhere a bit east of where the last cars are lying on their side, pretty far from where the rest of the train upto the SSL is located.

As a result of the derailment naturally Empire Builder service is affected as follows (quoted from the Amtrak Media post linked to above):
As a result of the derailment, Empire Builder trains 7/27 and 8/28 originating on Saturday, Sept. 25, are cancelled between Minot, ND (MOT) and Shelby, MT (SBY). Additionally, on Sunday, Sept. 26, westbound Empire Builder train 7 will terminate in Minneapolis, MN (MSP) and eastbound Empire Builder train 8 will originate in Minneapolis, MN (MSP). No substitute transportation is available. Amtrak customers can contact us at 800-872-7245 to obtain additional information about the status of services.
 
Last edited:

Rover

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
May 13, 2015
Messages
780
Location
N. Texas
I rode the Empire Builder, going west from Minneapolis in 1981.


Five Amtrak cars derailed around 3:55 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time and no other trains or equipment were involved, Weiss said. The train was traveling on a BNSF Railroad main track at the time, he said.

Amtrak said that because of the derailment, the Sunday westbound Empire Builder will terminate in Minneapolis, and the Sunday eastbound Empire Builder train will originate in Minneapolis.

 
Last edited:

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,918
Honestly looks like the switch got picked given the location and how the train derailed.
This is pure speculation, but given my experiences recently working for a Class I, I would be willing to bet that the switch was slightly gapped (meaning the point wasn’t totally flush with the rail) and then a car with a thin flange picked it.

Prayers for the three families who lost their loved ones today.
I agree. That’s my thoughts as well.

Remember, the original derailment started somewhere a bit east of where the last cars are lying on their side, pretty far from where the rest of the train upto the SSL is located.
This was a complex derailment. I think it started at the switch and the force of some cars splitting the switch sent as whiplash through the train strong enough that it toppled the last car over which carried other cars with it until a coupler broke and left those cars behind as the ssl was dragged by the rest of the consist.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporter
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,319
Location
Denver
According to Amtrak, 7 cars out of 10 derailed.


Remember, the original derailment started somewhere a bit east of where the last cars are lying on their side, pretty far from where the rest of the train upto the SSL is located.

As a result of the derailment naturally Empire Builder service is affected as follows (quoted from the Amtrak Media post linked to above):
As of 9 p.m. Pacific Time the Portland Oregonian still was just carrying the AP story that said the train was going to Seattle. The Oregon "paper of record" has been especially hard hit with cutbacks by the hedge fund that controls it. The family-owned Seattle Times sent a message to internet subscribers a couple of hours before with the AP story. Because the people who were able to be interviewed were in the Seattle section the media have the idea that's where the train was headed. It may be a while before we read accounts from the Portland cars.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,658
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
As of 9 p.m. Pacific Time the Portland Oregonian still was just carrying the AP story that said the train was going to Seattle. The Oregon "paper of record" has been especially hard hit with cutbacks by the hedge fund that controls it. The family-owned Seattle Times sent a message to internet subscribers a couple of hours before with the AP story. Because the people who were able to be interviewed were in the Seattle section the media have the idea that's where the train was headed. It may be a while before we read accounts from the Portland cars.
This is particularly sad considering most of the damage and injuries and fatalities are most likely in the Portland section, since those are the cars that capsized.
 

Charles785

Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 24, 2017
Messages
113
Some of the above posters have tried to do a good job explaining what might have caused the derailment, but for someone like me who doesn't know anything about railroad tracks and some of the jargon that goes with them, can someone try to totally illustrate what's being talked about when such things as 'switches' and 'picked' are mentioned?

First of all, what exactly does a switch do, and are they for some reason easily susceptible to being misaligned to the extent that no onboard crew member - or dispatcher - would notice?

And what does it mean to say 'a switch got picked?'

Are things called switches installed every few miles all the way up and down on mainlines and are they typical danger points?

Thanks!
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporter
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,319
Location
Denver
This is particularly sad considering most of the damage and injuries and fatalities are most likely in the Portland section, since those are the cars that capsized.
KPTV-12 (Fox) in Portland at 9:15 pm just has this as a national item from earlier in the day. Local shootings lead.

KGW-8 in Portland had a text update that added Portland as a destination, but the video was from their sister Seattle station with an earnest reporter standing with King Street Station in the background, promising to report if people from the Seattle area were injured.
Author: KING 5 Staff
Published: 5:42 PM PDT September 25, 2021
Updated: 8:58 PM PDT September 25, 2021

KATU-2 in Portland at 9:25 pm had nothing, even below the day's diet of shootings and follow-ups.

KOIN-6 in Portland at 9:28 pm had nothing. Did have some deeper stories on important topics.

The Vancouver Columbian had the story as a train to Seattle,
By Associated Press
Published: September 25, 2021, 7:15pm
 

NW cannonball

Conductor
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
Messages
1,572
Location
Minnesota
I'm still trying to make sense of the news photos I've seen -- looks like the SSL and the Portland sleeper are on their sides -- or ..

I also want to comment on how well the local emergency services and their backup help responded.
Those local people organized an amazing response. Consider that within a hundred miles there's three, maybe five-six counties, most have less than five thousand inhabitants. The biggest county (Hill,county seat Havre) on the Hi-Line has less than 20,000 people in almost 3000 square miles.

Fair use quote from the New York Times (in parts of NYC, there's 20,000 people living in less than one square mile)
Amanda Frickel, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Hill County, Mont., said in an interview that “well over” 50 people had been injured.
She said that rescuers from six counties were responding to the scene and that as many as five hospitals were on standby to receive injured passengers. There were also a number of medical helicopters standing by, she said.
North edge of nowhere, safety net in place. Medevac helos available. Good.
 

Burns651

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 21, 2016
Messages
30
Horrible news. And those photos. We always tell ourselves that the train is the safest way to travel, and it's true
No, it's not true. After the Feb. 2009 Colgan Air crash, 5 people have died in crashes aboard regularly scheduled commercial (non-sightseeing, non-charter) flights in the US. In the same period with Amtrak through this Montana crash (assuming the 3 killed figure holds), 21 people aboard have died in crashes. And that's with some 99% fewer passenger miles as planes.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Cal

NSC1109

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 14, 2016
Messages
490
Location
MI
Some of the above posters have tried to do a good job explaining what might have caused the derailment, but for someone like me who doesn't know anything about railroad tracks and some of the jargon that goes with them, can someone try to totally illustrate what's being talked about when such things as 'switches' and 'picked' are mentioned?

First of all, what exactly does a switch do, and are they for some reason easily susceptible to being misaligned to the extent that no onboard crew member - or dispatcher - would notice?

And what does it mean to say 'a switch got picked?'

Are things called switches installed every few miles all the way up and down on mainlines and are they typical danger points?

Thanks!
A switch allows a train to transition from one track to another, from one track to multiple tracks, or multiple tracks to one track.

By “picking a switch”, it means that the switch points (which determine what track the train goes on) was not fully lined for a particular track. Railroad wheels with a healthy flange likely won’t have an issue with a small gap; however, wheels with a “thin flange” (what keeps the wheels from falling off the rail) can get through the gapped switch and cause that wheel or the whole truck to follow the track opposite of what was intended, usually causing a major derailment if it’s done at speed.

A gapped switch can occur over the course of normal wear and tear and also as a result of being run-through (a train traveling through the points even though it’s not lined for that route). However, the Hi Line is CTC controlled at that location, so a run-through without being noticed is unlikely.
 

brianpmcdonnell17

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2016
Messages
1,532
Location
Chicago, Illinois
Yep, they do. Usually two but this train only had one due to covid.


This is the typical consist for trains 27/7 and 28/8

Two engines
Baggage
Trans dorm
1-2 Seattle sleepers
Diner
1-2 Seattle coaches
Lounge

1-2 Portland coaches
1 Portland sleeper


Everything in italics derailed, everything in bold was turned on it's side in this wreck.
There are always at least 2 Portland coaches, since one needs to have lower level ADA seating and one needs to have checked baggage. Assuming the consist was in the normal configuration, that would mean 4 cars (including the SSL) ended up on their side.
 

George Harris

Engineer
Joined
Apr 6, 2006
Messages
5,203
Location
finally! Back in Mississippi
Some of the above posters have tried to do a good job explaining what might have caused the derailment, but for someone like me who doesn't know anything about railroad tracks and some of the jargon that goes with them, can someone try to totally illustrate what's being talked about when such things as 'switches' and 'picked' are mentioned?

First of all, what exactly does a switch do, and are they for some reason easily susceptible to being misaligned to the extent that no onboard crew member - or dispatcher - would notice?

And what does it mean to say 'a switch got picked?'

Are things called switches installed every few miles all the way up and down on mainlines and are they typical danger points?

Thanks!
Since I have been playing with full size tracks and railroads for most of my working life and had a toy train set, and a Marx O-gauge as a kid I really don't know where to start. First, the whole blooming thing is properly called a turnout, although switch is commonly used as a synonym. A turnout is used where one track diverges from another one. Generally railroads try to minimize the number of turnouts in main tracks. The switch is the movable part which shifts to determine which way the train will go. Where the two rails cross is called a frog, and is a non-moving component. To get right to the point at hand, the point of switch is where the tip of the switch is shoved against one rail or the other. There are two switch blades, one for each rail. When open the gap is 4 3/4 inches. When closed the gap is supposed to be zero, but there is an allowable gap in the FRA safety rules. "Facing point" is when the train is approaching the turnout at the switch end. This is the move where gap is critical. "Trailing point" is when the train is moving from the frog end, in other words into the one track from the dividing end. Gap is usually of no issue in this direction, as the train wheels will simply push their way through. To "pick a switch" means that in a facing point move a wheel went through the switch point on the other than intended side. This will always result in a derailment.

This explanation could go on for pages but I will stop here. Do some on-line research and then come back with questions on the parts that are not easy to understand. Also, remember that not everything you see on line is accurate, and sometimes not even close.
 
Top