GRAND FORKS — Family members have identified one person killed in a Saturday, Sept. 25, Amtrak derailment in rural northern Montana, but authorities have not released the names of the other victims.
According to various media reports, family members identified Zach Schneider, of Fairview Heights, Illinois, as one of the three who died in the Saturday derailment. Authorities are not releasing the names of the other victims until family members are notified. The westbound Empire Builder 7/27 had made recent stops in Minnesota and North Dakota, including Grand Forks, but an Amtrak spokesman on Monday, Sept. 27, would not say how many people boarded the train at specific stops.
“We don't release individual travel data, even in clusters, for how many people get on at once, at least at this point,” said Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman. “The (National Transportation Safety Board) could choose to release that later, but we're not talking about that day's train operations at this point.”
The Associated Press reported Monday that at least seven people were taken to local hospitals in the area surrounding Joplin, Montana. Joplin is a small community in Liberty County, roughly 30 miles south of the Canadian border. The train was carrying about 141 passengers along with 17 crew members.
In an ABC news video on Sunday, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said all of the passengers of the train have been accounted for, and that all of those people have been transported out of the area, except for five who remain hospitalized. Passengers were assisted by local residents, who worked through the night to bring food and other supplies to the site and who then drove passengers to Montana airports.
“All of these people are volunteers, and most did not sleep at all (Saturday) night, helping the people that were impacted by this tragedy,” Gianforte said.
Officials from the NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF Railway, which owns that stretch of track, are on the scene investigating the accident. Several large cranes were brought to tracks in the area of the derailment, which run more or less parallel to U.S. Highway 2. Amtrak officials said the train was made up of two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, and a few of which came to rest on their sides.
In North Dakota, the westbound Empire Builder enters the state at Fargo and heads northward to Grand Forks before veering to the west for stops at Devils Lake, Rugby, Minot, Stanley and Williston. In 2019, more than 101,000 passengers boarded trains in the state. In Minnesota, the train makes stops in Detroit Lakes, Staples, St. Cloud, the Twin Cities, Red Wing and Winona. The Empire Builder's route is Chicago to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.
On Sunday, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn gave his condolences to people who lost family members in the crash, and said the company is working with investigators to determine the cause.
“We are in mourning today for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train ... as well as the many others who were injured,” said Flynn. “We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers.”
Flynn said emergency personnel have been sent to the area to assist passengers and employees. A family assistance center has been established in Great Falls, Montana. People with questions about family members and friends aboard the train can call 800-523-9101.
Flynn also expressed gratitude to people assisting at the accident site, and said Amtrak employees will attempt to retrieve the personal items of passengers and employees, as soon as they have been given permission to do so.
“We want to extend our deep gratitude and sincere appreciation to the Joplin and greater Liberty County communities, and other Montana counties and their selfless first-responders, hospital staff and law enforcement for their immediate and ongoing help to support of all those aboard the Empire Builder for responding with such urgency, compassion and patience,” Flynn said.