BAINVILLE, Mont. — “There was fire on both sides.”
That is what Nakiya Ontiveroz saw as she was awoken from her slumber when the 10-car Amtrak train she was traveling in derailed near Bainville along U.S. Highway 2 after striking a John Deere sprayer tractor. Roosevelt County officials announced that the driver of the tractor died.
The crossing where the crash happened, at mile marker 653, had no crossing arms, according to a news release from Roosevelt County.
“I was asleep, laying down on the seats,” Ontiveroz told the Williston Herald. “All I know was it felt like the train was about to tip over. There was a big commotion and it felt like we were about to go over, one way or the other. Next thing I know, everybody got up, and there was fire on both sides.”
Multiple passengers sprang into action, exiting the train before first responders arrived, attempting to extinguish the growing fire and tend to any others that were injured.
“A lot of the people that were on the train got out and put the fire out,” said Madeline Rivera, another passenger. “And it’s because of them that the fire didn’t keep spreading. If the people had waited, the train would have completely caught on fire.”
According to the passengers, none of the cars actually tipped over, but several came off of the track.
“About eight of the cars were actually off the track itself just sitting on the ground,” explained passenger Bear Harper.
Harper was among those who helped extinguish the fire, along with Bill Stanforth, who has first aid training through his job as a coach.
Stanforth said he and his family were sitting about midway in the train when the accident occurred. After feeling the collision, Stanforth’s wife attended to their daughter while he and another passenger began grabbing fire extinguishers from the train and exited to put the fire out. He said that several Amtrak employees were attending to passengers onboard as he and the others began to put out the flames.
“We went out and just started putting out fires,” Stanforth explained. “Some of the staff came out, we continued on towards the collision site and put out the fires that we could. Some of us kept running back in and getting more extinguishers, and then met up with first responders at the crash site.”
Stanforth said there were around five minutes between when the collision occurred and first responders began to arrive on scene. Stanforth said he approached the collision scene itself to see if he could be of assistance with his first aid training. Sadly, the driver of the sprayer was killed.
Passengers from the train were taken to nearby Culbertson High School for triage.
According to Teresa Moore, Incident Commander for Roosevelt Medical Center EMS, 63 passengers were onboard the train, and four of them were treated for minor injuries.
The passengers remained at Culbertson High School, where shuttles would come to take them to Wolf Point, where they would re-board another train.
All train traffic on the line is stopped and officials recommend avoiding the Sixth Avenue crossing in Bainville.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said in a statement that he had been in contact with Roosevelt County officials about the crash.
“Cindy and I are praying for all those involved in the horrible Amtrak accident today that occurred in Roosevelt County,” Daines said. “I’m monitoring the situation and have been in contact with local county officials and the county sheriff’s department to share my concern for all those involved and to receive updates on the incident as they become available.”
Statement from Amtrak about the crash:
“At about 11:41 a.m. CT, westbound Amtrak Trains 7 & 27 made contact with a farm vehicle at a railroad crossing east of Wolf Point, Mont. There were no reports of life-threatening injuries to the 64 customers and 10 crew members.
One Amtrak customer and three crew members were treated and released by a local hospital.
“The train was damaged in the incident and remained upright as it lost contact with the tracks. Customers are sheltered at Culbertson (Mont.) High School as they await substitute transportation westward. This train originated in Chicago yesterday (Thursday), with the Train 7 section destined for Seattle and the Train 27 section destined for Portland.
“This incident also affected the eastbound Train 8/28, which also originated yesterday (Thursday), as the railroad is temporarily closed for an investigation and any needed repairs. This train will terminate in Wolf Point and is returning back to its origins, transporting those customers from the westbound train. The 49 customers who had been eastbound are being offered travel on the next eastbound train.
“In this area, Amtrak uses tracks owned and dispatched by BNSF Railway. We appreciate the assistance by the host railroad and the Culberson community. The traffic incident is under investigation by the Montana Highway Patrol.”