At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, an Amtrack train derailed in Northfield, Vt., after hitting ledge that had tumbled onto the tracks. Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke to media at a hastily called press conference at 1:30 p.m. in front of Plumley Armory, which is where many of the passengers on the daily Vermonter were transported following the derailment just south of the university.
The governor described it as a “brutal derailment caused by ledge on the tracks.” Of the 98 passengers on board,seven people were transported for medical care, one by helicopter to Dartmouth Hospital, according to Gov. Shumlin. “Everyone else walked out,” he said.
“We call it an act of God,” said Col. Matthew Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police. No foul play is suspected at this time, but a full investigation is under way. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be involved, according to Shumlin.
“My heart goes out to the passengers and the crew,” Shumlin said, adding that there is no reason to believe that there was any negligence on anyone’s part.
Gov. Shumlin expressed relief that no one died in the accident. He recalled a train derailment in 1984 that was deadly for Vermonters. In that disaster, five were killed and 150 were injured.
Two rail cars went off the tracks, including the engine and one passenger car. They ended up in a tributary of the Dog River, and salvaging will start as soon as possible, as well as the removal of some diesel fuel that also got into the river, Shumlin said.
The governor thanked first responders for being on scene almost immediately, as well as the Amtrack team for their handling of the situation. He said he was hopeful for a speedy recovery for all those injured in the derailment.
A Vermont railroad official stated it would have been unlikely that any operator assistance would have helped stop the derailment, there was simply nothing the conductor could have done.
When a train is traveling at above 50 miles per hour, there’s very little that can be done to stop it, Shumlin said.
Passengers were bused to Plumley Armory, which is an evacuation center in Vermont, and will be bused south by Amtrack or put up in hotels by the rail company, the governor said. Sodexo was mobilized to provide food and liquids for the passengers while they waited for arrangements to be made.
The railroad tracks are owned by New England Central Railroad and they are responsible for its maintenance. According to a Vermont railroad official, they conduct sweeps of the tracks “a couple times a week.”
Gov. Shumlin stated that a freight train running on the same set of tracks had passed through last night with no issue, indicating the rocks must have fallen since that time.