‘It was a terrible day’: Amtrak passenger recounts Empire Builder train derailment

SPOKANE, Wash. — Three people died and more were injured in Amtrak’s Empire Builder train derailment in north Montana.

It is still not known how the train derailed, but the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate. Seven of the 10 cars from the Empire Builder went off the tracks Saturday. The train was traveling westbound, starting from Chicago and on its way to Seattle.

It was supposed to make a stop in Spokane overnight when it derailed near Joplin, MT. Amtrak said 147 passengers and 13 crew members were on board.

Nicholas Hess, from Atlanta, was working in the back of the observation car on a trip to Seattle when he said things suddenly got “really violent.”

“It was a terrible day,” he said.

He said everything happened in the span of about 30 seconds. His car tipped over, but he made it out and was okay. He then went and helped people as many others tried to do the same.

“Gravel and dust was just barging in and it was an incredible amount of noise. Then it was done, right. What had happened was the observation car laid down and it tore off the cars behind us,” Hess recalled.

As of early Sunday afternoon, five people are still hospitalized and everyone else was released. The number of people who were injured is unknown.

The CEO of Amtrak, Bill Flynn, spoke out following the train derailment, saying they are in mourning for the people who lost their lives.

No one has been identified yet as the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office is still notifying family.

As for Hess, he was in Chester Sunday afternoon in a hotel. He said he was being flown out to his next destination.

“Quite possibly one of the most awful things that’s happened to me, but it was just one thing and then it was over, right,” Hess said. “Now we’re dealing with the aftermath of it. It was dreadful but, it is done. My thoughts go out to the poor unfortunates who lost people, the folks who died.”

Hess said he still planned on continuing to ride Amtrak for the remainder of his trip. He said he still felt comfortable and felt it was a “freak accident.”

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