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Amtrak train derailed in Montana

By Duane Cruz, Staff Writer

 Eight Amtrak train cars flipped over 90 degrees, lying on their side; passengers and crew members had to push their way out through broken windows, many of them were hurt or injured on Sept. 25 in Japlin, Montana.

In the incident, eight of the ten train cars had been overturned on their sides; the cause is something that safety officials are still trying to figure out.

Of the total 141 passengers and 17 crew members, three passengers were killed, and dozens were injured.

The three passengers who had died in this incident include a married couple traveling together and a husband. The couple, 74-year-old Donald Varnado and 72-year-old wife Marjorie were celebrating their 50th anniversary when the incident occurred. 

With safety now one of the major topics of discussion for Amtrak, it’s important to note that this has been just one of multiple Amtrak trains crashing within the past decade. 

One that was costly was the 2017 Washington train crash where an Amtrak train derailed on a bridge above Interstate I-5. The damages were extensive, as were the number of civilians that were injured that day. Of the five Amtrak employees and 77 passengers on board, three passengers were killed and 57 passengers and crew members injured. The severity of the crash was not just in the derailment, but that the train itself fell onto the interstate, blocking the heavily relied-on roadway.

A similar accident took place in 2015, when another Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia. The train was traveling from Washington D.C. to New York when it derailed at a curved railway, traveling at about 100 miles per hour instead of the 50 miles per hour limit. The devastating crash left over 200 victims injured, and eight dead.

This portfolio of major accidents where hundreds of people are left injured has done well to put the cross country train company safety procedures under the magnifying glass.

A recent passenger who rode the Amtrak’s Seattle to Chicago line not too long before the incident in Japlin said now she would think twice before riding again.

Senior theater and communications majors Shelley Dean took the Amtrak back home from Seattle for her senior year of college before the fall semester started.  She figured it would be a fun way to get back for her senior year. Fortunately, all was well for Dean. She described the trip as ethereal.

“Watching the view change from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest was an experience that is hard to put into words,” Dean said. 

This all changed for Shelley when she heard about the accident in Japlin. 

“When I heard the news about the same train I was on crashing, my stomach dropped, knowing something could have happened to me was terrifying. My heart goes out to the victims’ families.  I am looking forward to hearing what the company has to say about the crash, and how they are planning on preventing a situation like this in the future. For a travel experience that is so expensive, I want to make sure it is safe for me.”

Dean is not the only one expecting to hear from Amtrak for their liability in the accident. 

“I think they should definitely own up to it. The [government] is ultimately accountable for maintaining the lines. Even if it was a freak mistake,” Brian Chang, senior business management major Brian Chang said.

This is exactly what many of the crash victims have in mind as they move forward to file a suit against Amtrak and BNSF railway under the firm Clifford Law Offices. For each of the seven plaintiffs, a maximum of $295 million was set in reparations for each individual.

The reason for the derailment still is unclear, with further investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Admission still underway.

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