Empire Builder accident (9/25/21)

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pennyk

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Just-Thinking-51

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NTSB reports are not good as some people think they are. NTSB reports miss details that people in the particular practice have knowledge of, that would directly cause said accidents.
 
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We are supposed to take this train next weekend! Going to Glacier. We already booked flights this morning to Kalispell. Do any of you have experience with refunds from Amtrak in situations like this? Even if they got the trains running again by next weekend, we don't fell comfortable with it now. We're assuming that since it's a week away we can only get a voucher? Is that true even if your trip is cancelled? I have a feeling that a phone call would take forever.
 

lordsigma

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We are supposed to take this train next weekend! Going to Glacier. We already booked flights this morning to Kalispell. Do any of you have experience with refunds from Amtrak in situations like this? Even if they got the trains running again by next weekend, we don't fell comfortable with it now. We're assuming that since it's a week away we can only get a voucher? Is that true even if your trip is cancelled? I have a feeling that a phone call would take forever.
Sorry that you feel this way - train travel is very safe and much safer than getting in your car and driving yourself and this is a beautiful route but I can also understand your hesitance given what has occurred and given that the causes aren’t yet known. I would definitely do the call center rather than canceling online because they may override any cancellation fees given the circumstances - I usually take a voucher as I am a frequent Amtrak customer and don’t fly - but if you don’t plan to take a train again in the future as a result of this incident I’d definitely call and push for the cash refund. If they end up canceling the day outright you were on due to this incident you would get money back. They have a callback thing now where they can call you back when your at the front of the queue. Here’s the official policy Amtrak Train Ticket Refund and Cancellation Policy
 
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WWW

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We are supposed to take this train next weekend! Going to Glacier. We already booked flights this morning to Kalispell. Do any of you have experience with refunds from Amtrak in situations like this? Even if they got the trains running again by next weekend, we don't fell comfortable with it now. We're assuming that since it's a week away we can only get a voucher? Is that true even if your trip is cancelled? I have a feeling that a phone call would take forever.
After the NTSB people have made their inspection - the BNSF people will get to work fixing the rails so the freight & passenger service can resume.
As for Amtrak operating the full length of trains 7 & 8 (with 27 & 28 Portland sections) with a full consist and schedule can't answer that.

Your trip plans to Glacier via Kalispell is west of the accident site - - - I would not let this get in the way of travel plans perhaps made months in advance.
Amtrak could operate a stub section from SEA to Glacier and do a bus bridge around the accident site resuming service from Minot to Chicago.

Check with Amtrak for full details and any refunds vouchers lordsigma just posted Amtraks Refund Cancellation policy
 
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jis

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Amtrak could operate a stub section from SEA to Glacier and do a bus bridge around the accident site resuming service from Minot to Chicago.
In the past setting up bus bridges along the High Line has been quite a challenge because of the dearth of available buses for such use in that part of Montana, specially when schools are in session. But miracles can still happen I suppose.
 

leacrane

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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!
Thanks for this post. I too get a bit frustrated by use of jargon by serious railfans that more casual riders like me don't understand. Sometimes it would be helpful and more inclusive to explain the jargon.
Thank you to those who have responded to the original question about the switches
 

sublib

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My son & I left MSP Friday night on this train. We were in 2730, Roomette 6 (at the tail) doing an out and back run to Glasgow, MT. We were about five minutes into our return trip on 8/28 when this happened. The last sleeper on 7/27 was close to full with lots of elderly folks, it appeared to me. The coach cars between our sleeper and the lounge were also near capacity. Strange feeling to see those photos. My thoughts go out to the injured and the families of those lost.
 

dlagrua

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This is a very unfortunate accident on heavily traveled BNSF tracks. Our sincerest condolences to those that have lost loved ones. One can only speculate on the cause. I'll guess that it is more than likely, a problem with the tracks that sees mostly heavy slow freight, but Amtrak equipment is very old and wasn't built to last forever. I am anxious to read what the NTSB claims in their report.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I find interesting is these cars are on their sides and before the facing points, I assumed then something happened to something before the train hit the switch points? Would anyone theorize then if a switch was picked, why are the last three cars not near the points?
My theory -
The track speed is 79 mph. The first car that picked the switch and began the derailment sent a whiplash type force through the train that caused the last car to turn over. The last car started turning connecting cars over until a coupler broke leaving those cars seperate from the rest of the train.
 

Trollopian

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A Washington Post reader from near (well, 80 miles, "near" by the standards of a sparsely-populated remote area) the crash had this to say. Lightly edited. Sobering. This is the reality of emergency response in an isolated area with few hospitals and already overwhelmed by COVID. Story is at https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/09/25/amtrak-train-derails-montana/ , behind a paywall but most of you can read a few free stories a month; reader comments are not copyrighted.

"I live in rural MT, about 80 miles northeast of the accident site. I’ve been an emergency services volunteer for over 40 years. A mass casualty incident is something that we train for, but are secure in the knowledge that, if one happens, it will quickly overwhelm the local resources. The county in which the accident occurred immediately called in fire and EMS units from the surrounding area but the response time was quite long because of the distances involved. Our local fire dep’t sent one truck, with extrication equipment, but it’s a 1 1/2 hour trip. Plus, the hospitals are full of Covid patients. Not a winning combination.

It could have been worse. The accident could have occurred in January, in a blizzard, with temps well below 0°F. Or, it could have been one of the several crude oil trains which pass through this area every day, starting a fire that could burn down an entire county."
 
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After the NTSB people have made their inspection - the BNSF people will get to work fixing the rails so the freight & passenger service can resume.
As for Amtrak operating the full length of trains 7 & 8 (with 27 & 28 Portland sections) with a full consist and schedule can't answer that.

Your trip plans to Glacier via Kalispell is west of the accident site - - - I would not let this get in the way of travel plans perhaps made months in advance.
Amtrak could operate a stub section from SEA to Glacier and do a bus bridge around the accident site resuming service from Minot to Chicago.

Check with Amtrak for full details and any refunds vouchers lordsigma just posted Amtraks Refund Cancellation policy
We are coming from Chicago. I would feel comfortable with a train trip in future but for right now we need to figure out other plans just in case :)
 

F900ElCapitan

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Yep, they we’re definitely derailed prior to the switch. It also looks like the three cars that separated all stayed together and aren’t too far from the rest of the train.
Someone earlier mentioned that a tie replacement program might be going on in the area, which might be a factor. This could also be a broken rail or wheel/axel. Lot’s of possibilities now that picking the switch seems to not be an issue.
Hopefully we’ll get some good information soon.

I am also sending many thoughts and prayers to all that are involved.🙏
 
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Willbridge

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The NTSB conclusions often don't cover everything, but the information they uncover is there for analysis.
I was close to the story of a Dayliner wreck in Alberta and the investigation turned up numerous "small" details that clearly contributed to the severity of the accident. These did not make the mass media as the basic "cause" was quickly obvious and politicians took it from there.

Having had experience with responding to questions about accidents I don't mind fact-based speculation. That's a start on the process of responding to the need to prevent future accidents.

I also know how a whole organization can feel pain at the death or serious injury of a customer or a colleague. However, in countries where speculation is suppressed the same type of accidents keep happening.
 

JayPea

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I have an EB trip coming up Friday morning as the first part of a loop trip (Spokane-Portland-Los Angeles-Chicago-Spokane). If the EB isn't running between Spokane and Portland by then, there are plenty of ways to get to Portland from Spokane. If, however, it is not going through to Spokane from Chicago on the return (scheduled to leave from Chicago on the 6th) that might be more problematic. Right now my thoughts are with the families of those affected by this tragedy and the members of the NTSB who are given the task of determining the cause of this derailment no matter how long it takes. To me whether the train runs is much less important.
 

NSC1109

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The way the diner ended up and the way the points are facing are what’s curious to me…almost looks like the switch could’ve traveled under the train but I don’t know how the in-train forces would result in how the cars ended up.

The NTSB will examine the switch points and the rod that moves them for any sign of damage. I’m sure they’ll be asking BNSF for inspection records as well from the local TI.

At this point there could be any number of possibilities. The original photos definitely appeared like a picked switch but now there are too many unknowns to even begin to draw a conclusion. Time to let the NTSB do their job.
 

jis

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Derailer before the switch.
This is what I have been trying to point out, but many who are already invested in a theory have been blissfully ignoring it. So now I await NTSB's reconstruction of what happened, and am refraining from speculating about the sequence of events that left the train in its final configuration..
 
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