One of three people killed when an Amtrak train derailed in Montana has been identified as a married engineer who was headed for a vacation with his wife.
Missouri engineer, Zach Schneider, 28, was on the Empire Builder with his wife Becca en route to Portland, Oregon, when it derailed near Joplin yesterday afternoon.
Zach, who was from St. Louis and worked for payments firm Stripe, was killed after several of the train cars left the tracks and toppled over onto their sides. He was identified by a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for his funeral.
Schneider’s wife Becca, 26, was traveling with him but survived. She has since posted photos of herself with her late spouse on Facebook, but has not commented.
Family friend Caleb Morris, who created the page, paid tribute to Schneider by saying he was one of the ‘sweetest, smartest, and most unique people I know.’
Zach Schneider is pictured in photos from his Facebook page. Zach was killed on September 25 2021, when an Amtrak train derailed in Montana, on his way to Portland
‘Zach always used this to push for a better world where everyone was included. I have always respected his ability to think differently. Thankful to have been blessed by knowing you, Zach,’ wrote Morris in a heartfelt plea for donations.
The other two victims killed have not been identified, with five other passengers badly injured by the derailment still being treated in hospital.
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said Sunday his firm was distraught over the derailment, whose cause has not yet been identified.
‘We are in mourning for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train Saturday, near Joplin, Montana, on the BNSF Railway, as well as the many others who were injured,’ Amtrak’s Bill Flynn said.
Zach Schneider, 28, and his wife Becca, 26, were both onboard the train at the time
Three people are dead and more than 50 are injured after an Amtrak train carrying 147 passengers and 13 crew derailed in Montana on Saturday afternoon
This aerial view taken on Sunday shows part of an Amtrak train that derailed in north-central Montana Saturday that killed multiple people and left others hospitalized, officials said
The westbound Empire Builder was en route to Seattle from Chicago, with two locomotives and 10 cars, when it left the tracks about 4pm on Saturday
Amtrak’s Empire Builder derailed near Joplin, Montana around 4pm MST
A GoFundMe page has been set up by a friend of the family for Zach Schneider’s funeral expenses
Zach Schneider is pictured with wife Becca Schneider in photos from her Instagram page. The couple had been married since 2016
Crews appear to be using ladders to get on top of the cars in a rescue effort on Saturday
It is suspected that the train derailed near the switch at East Buelow. The cause of the derailment is not clear. Pictured: People use ladders to climb up the side of train cars to help trapped passengers escape
In the statement, Flynn said the company was cooperating with the investigation. He added they are working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Railroad Administration, local law enforcement and response agencies.
‘Amtrak’s immediate and sust`ained focus is on doing everything we can to help our passengers and crew, especially the families of those who were injured or died, at this painful and difficult time,’ Flynn added.
He said the company’s incident response team has been initiated. Amtrak has sent emergency personnel and company leadership to help support passengers, employees and their families.
The westbound Empire Builder was traveling to Seattle from Chicago when it left the tracks at about 4pm on Saturday near the small town of Joplin.
The train was carrying about 141 passengers and 16 crew members and had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.
Passengers are pictured beside derailed cars on the track near Joplin, Montana. One passenger said she heard a boom and felt the carriage ‘pitching violently side-to-side’
At least three cars derailed and two separated from the train
The last train car was completely on its side from the derailment
A 14-member National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team including investigators and specialists in railroad signals were looking into the cause of the derailment on a BNSF Railway main track that involved no other trains or equipment, board spokesman Eric Weiss said.
The accident scene is about 30 miles from the Canadian border.
Most of the people on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five people who were more seriously hurt remained at the Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls, Montana, according to Sarah Robbin, Liberty County emergency services co-ordinator.
Another two people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, Montana, spokeswoman Melody Sharpton said.
Liberty County Sheriff Nick Erickson said the rest of the names of the dead would not be released until relatives had been notified.
Ms Robbin said nearby residents had rushed to help when the derailment occurred.
‘We are so fortunate to live where we do, where neighbors help neighbors,’ she said.
One car flipped over. Some of the cars slid down a 30 foot embankment
The train spread across two tracks. It is believed the accident happened near a switch
Amtrak said it had sent emergency personnel and other officials to the site to help passengers, employees and local officials. It said company officials had been ‘deeply saddened’ to learn of the deaths.
Following the derailment, Sunday’s westbound Empire Builder from Chicago was terminating in Minneapolis, and the eastbound train was originating in Minneapolis.
Passenger Megan Vandervest told The New York Times she had been woken by the derailment.
‘My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing,’ Ms Vandervest, from Minneapolis, said.
‘My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.’
She told the newspaper that the car behind hers was tilted, the one behind that was tipped over, and the three cars behind that ‘had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train’.
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Centre, where some passengers were being taken, Ms Vandervest said it had felt like ‘extreme turbulence on a plane’.
Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help.
Chester councillor Rachel Ghekiere said she and others had helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were taken to a school.
‘I went to the school and assisted with water, food, wiping dirt off faces,’ she said.
‘They appeared to be tired, shaken but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending where they were on the train.’
Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he did not want to speculate but suspected that the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.
Railways had ‘virtually eliminated’ major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Mr Zarembski said.
‘I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,’ he said.
NTSB findings could take months, he added.
Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw railway crash investigations for several years at the NTSB, said the agency would not rule out human error or any other potential causes for now.
‘There are still human performance issues examined by NTSB to be sure that people doing the work are qualified and rested and doing it properly,’ Mr Chipkevich said.
Mr Chipkevich said track conditions had historically been a significant cause of train accidents. He noted that most of the track that Amtrak used was owned by freight railways and depended on those companies for safety maintenance.
Safety expert and former Amtrak conductor says derailment could have been caused by badly maintained tracks or a driver slamming on brakes to avoid running a stop signal
A rail safety consultant has suggested that the train derailment that killed three people and wounded 50 in Montana on Saturday night could have been caused by the driver ‘jamming on’ the locomotive’s breaks to avoid running a stop signal.
Eight cars out of the 10 cars on Amtrak’s Empire Builder 7/27 train derailed as it carried 141 passengers and 16 crew members from Chicago to Seattle, according to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.
Two train cars separated and slid down a 30 foot embankment, and police confirmed that three passengers onboard died. As of Sunday afternoon, five passengers are still hospitalized, but are in stable condition.
It is currently unclear what caused the crash.
Former Amtrak conductor turned safety consultant Michael Callanan told Dailymail.com that there is a ‘distinct possibility’ that sudden braking was a factor, based on the proximity of a stop signal to the site of the crash.
He said another explanation could be ill-maintained tracks.
BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks where the crash occurred, and Amtrak, which owns the train, are looking into the derailment, alongside federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Matt Jones, a BNSF Railway spokesman said at a news conference that the track where the accident occurred was last inspected on Thursday.
Per the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, all trains must install ‘Positive Train Control,’ a satellite-controlled system that automatically stops a locomotive before accidents occur.
However, Callanan said that a number of railroads have put off the expensive installations and petitioned government officials for more time.
Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he didn’t want to speculate but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.
Railways have ‘virtually eliminated’ major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said.
‘I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,’ Zarembski said.
It is unclear whether the Empire Builder 7/27 was outfitted with PTC equipment.
The National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday it is launching a 14-member ‘go team’ to investigate the derailment.
Callanan told MailOnline that the number of agencies involved is one of the elements that will stretch out that investigation, which he said could take up to two years.
‘They’re going to download a black box [that] measures everything – what position the throttle was in, what kind of breaks were put on, how fast he was going,’ Callanan said.
‘They’re going to download the dash cam, they’re going to drug test the whole crew to see if there was any drugs and alcohol involved.’
He said that the National Transportation Safety Board will ‘take that train to a warehouse, piece everything together and test every part of the train – every car, [and the] breaks on every car.’
Witnesses – each person who was riding the train and anyone who can be found that saw the crash from outside the train – will all be interviewed by the agencies.
Meanwhile, during the long-spanning investigation, all of the employees who were manning that train will be ‘taken out of service.’
Amtrak employees have the option to buy into insurance, he said, but most don’t.
He added: ‘Hopefully the employees that did not pay into that have money saved up.’
Amtrak said in a statement Sunday: ‘We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident.’