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Amtrak Train Derails In Northfield

Stefan Hard
Times Argus
Two Amtrak passenger cars and an engine slid down an embankment after the train hit a piece of rock that had fallen onto the track.

An Amtrak passenger train carrying 102 people derailed Monday morning in Northfield after pieces of rock ledge fell onto the tracks. Seven people were injured in the accident, including one who was airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, but emergency officials say it could have been much worse.

Bob Redmond and his wife had traveled from Indian River, Michigan, to take in New England’s fall foliage. Their rail tour had taken them through Massachusetts and into Vermont, where they watched the passing autumn scenery through the windows of their Amtrak railcar.

“We were sitting in the very back of the car and I just heard a bunch of rumbling and rumbling and then, oh, we’re off the track, and going sideways. And all of a sudden the car in front of us was beside us,” Redmond says.

Redmond was among the scores of dazed passengers who gathered in the front yard of a Northfield home near the crash site late Monday morning. Fire trucks, ambulances and state police cruisers idled in the steep driveway leading to the makeshift staging area as people emerged one-by-one from the woods, some with assistance from emergency medical technicians.

“The train just started shaking like crazy and then rocking and we hear brake noise and saw windows. It was pretty surreal,” says Gail Higgins, a California resident also visiting the region for the foliage. “And you know, it just goes through your mind, is this really happening?”

The vast majority of the passengers emerged from the rail cars unharmed, but six people were transported to Central Vermont Medical Center with minor injuries, and a seventh was taken by helicopter to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in more serious condition.

"All of a sudden the car in front of us was beside us." - Bob Redmond, Amtrak passenger

The person’s name was withheld by officials, pending notification of family. Amtrak officials say the injuries were not life threatening.

School buses arrived to ferry the passengers from the crash site to Norwich University, where the school’s food service staff prepared a meal for the unexpected guests. Passengers sat in folding chairs set up in the university armory, and many called their worried loved ones.

Gov. Peter Shumlin canceled other plans and went to Northfield to meet with the stranded passengers.

“My heart goes out to the passengers and the crew who went through this traumatic experience and we’re very, very lucky that there was no loss of life,” Shumlin said.

Five of the train’s six railcars jumped the tracks, and the engine slid down a steep embankment and ended up in a small stream. The posted speed limit on the stretch of track where the derailment occurred is 59 miles per hour.

Credit Stefan Hard / Times Argus
Times Argus
Five of the six cars of an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Northfield Monday. Seven people were hospitalized as a result of the incident.

“As you can imagine, ties are torn up, there is some diesel fuel in the river, and it’s going take some time for us to clear away the tracks and rebuild them,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin says state and federal officials will investigate the incident. He says speed wasn't a factor, and that he has no reason to believe the event is symptomatic of underlying safety deficiencies.

“This really is an example of a freak of nature where ledge broke up and fell onto the tracks,” Shumlin said.

The tracks where the accident occurred are privately owned and operated by New England Central Railroad. Shumlin says a freight train passed through without incident Sunday night, and the ledge had likely collapsed hours before the derailment.

Dan Delabruere, rail program director at the Agency of Transportation, says New England Central is responsible for inspecting the tracks, something he says company does at least twice a week. He said Monday that he did not know when the most recent inspection occurred.

The train that derailed was a line called The Vermonter, and is part of a route that travels from St. Albans to Washington, D.C. Amtrak will continue service along the route, according to Shumlin, however the train route will stop in Springfield, Mass., where passengers may  transfer to busses, until the tracks are repaired.

Bob Redmond says the experience was a jolting one, but that it won’t sour his vacation.

“Luckily we’re okay, and we’ll continue on with our trip,” Redmond said. “It’s a wonderful state, we’ve enjoyed being out here in the east and we’re okay. It’s just a little interruption.”

Editor's Note?: The above story was posted on this page at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 5. For the original news post along with updates from throughout Monday as the situation unfolded, see below.

Update 4 p.m. Amtrak released some information about the derailment in a release Monday afternoon.

Amtrak management continues to respond to the derailment of Train 55, the Vermonter, near Northfield, Vermont. The train was traveling from St. Albans, Vt., to Washington, D.C. when it partially derailed. The track is owned and maintained by the New England Central Railroad. Preliminary reports indicate some passengers have sustained injuries and have been transported to local medical facilities. There are no immediate reports of any life-threatening injuries to the 98 passengers and four crew members.

The release said anyone with questions about friends or family on the train can call Amtrak's emergency hotline at 1-800-523-9101. It did not mention the status of the injured passenger who was airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Update 1:43 p.m. Gov. Peter Shumlin says seven people were injured when an Amtrak passenger train carrying 104 people derailed in Northfield at about 10:30 Monday morning.

Shumlin says six people were transported to Central Vermont Medical Center in nearby Berlin, where they’re expected to recover quickly from minor injuries. A seventh person, who officials are not identifying pending notification of family, was airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where the person is being treated for undisclosed injuries.

No deaths were reported at the scene.

"I’ve just been meeting with the passengers," Shumlin said, "and it’s really a remarkable thing to hear. It was a pretty brutal derailment caused by ledge on the track, and as one of the passengers said to me, ‘Someone was looking out for us, because literally we walked out of a very difficult situation.’"

The Amtrak Vermonter was headed south toward Randolph after a stop in Montpelier. Many of the passengers were tourists from out of state visiting the area to see fall foliage.

Shumlin says a piece of a ledge that had fallen onto the tracks Sunday night or early Monday morning was responsible for the derailment. Shumlin said a freight train passed through the same section of track Sunday night without incident.

The train was made up of six passenger cars being pulled by one engine. The engine and five of the passenger cars derailed. The engine and two passenger cars slid down a steep embankment, and the engine came to a rest in a nearby stream.

Shumlin said crews are working to remove diesel that spilled in the wreck. He said both state officials and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the derailment, but added that he doesn’t think that the accident is symptomatic of any underlying safety deficiencies. A ledge falling into tracks, he said, is a “freak” occurrence. Shumlin also said inspectors check for problems on the tracks at least twice per week.

Amtrak is arranging bus transportation for passengers affected by the derailment, Shumlin said.

Update 1:34 p.m. Before a 1:30 news conference, Gov. Peter Shumlin arrived at Norwich University in Northfield to meet with some of the passengers from the derailed train.

Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
Gov. Peter Shumlin met with passengers from the derailed Amtrak train Monday afternoon.

Update 12:24 p.m. Gov. Peter Shumlin's office announced a news conference, planned for 1:30 p.m. at Norwich University, to brief the media on the train derailment.

Original Post 12:04 p.m. Emergency personnel on the scene asay there are no life-threatening injuries, but neither emergency officials nor Amtrak officials have confirmed that.

Just before noon, passengers were gathered in a yard at a nearby home awaiting buses. Emergency personnel on site announced on a loudspeaker that the buses will transport passengers to Norwich University, where a meal is being prepared for them.

The derailment took place to the east of Vermont Route 12, near the road's intersection with Bull Run Road in Northfield, less than a mile from where the tracks pass over Route 12.

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