NORTHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — An Amtrak train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., on Monday hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge, spilling the locomotive and a passenger car down an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people, authorities said.
The Vermonter train carrying 98 passengers and four crew members derailed at around 10:30 a.m. in Northfield, about 20 miles southwest of Montpelier. Officials with the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating.
"This was a freak of nature," Gov. Peter Shumlin said at a news conference.
One of the injured people was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and was being evaluated in the emergency room, spokesman Rick Adams said. Six others went to Central Vermont Medical Center with injuries including neck, back and shoulder pain and lightheadedness.
Federal records show the company that operates that stretch of tracks, New England Central Railroad, which is part of the Genesee and Wyoming Railroad, has had four accidents since 2006 that could have involved debris on the tracks.
In the railroad's 54 accidents since 2006, three people died.
Federal safety rules for tracks that carry passengers require at least two inspections every week, with at least one day between each inspection.
State officials said a freight train had passed over the same tracks Sunday night with no problems.
Company officials confirmed details of the crash but did not immediately provide a comment.
Bob Redmond, of Bay City, Michigan, was taking a foliage tour and sitting in the front row of the third car when the train derailed. He looked outside the window and saw the car that had been ahead of his was now alongside him.
"It was just going the other way, and we started tipping sideways and down we went," he said.
The Vermonter takes the route daily, beginning in northern Vermont. The 13-hour, 45-minute trip leaves St. Albans, Vermont, at 8:58 a.m. then passes through cities including Burlington, Vermont, Springfield, Massachusetts, and New York, with D.C. as the final destination.
But on Monday, the train hit rocks that had fallen onto the tracks from a ledge above, sending the locomotive and a passenger car over an embankment. Three other cars left the track but remained upright.
"We were fortunate when you see what happened," Redmond said. "It could've been a whole lot worse, that's for sure.
Tracy Zaplitny, also of Bay City, said she and other passengers broke a window to get out of the train.
"It's a huge wreck up there," she said.
At least several dozen passengers were loaded onto school buses to be taken to an armory at nearby Norwich University.
Passengers helped others after the crash. Redmond said since he was in the front row, he got off the train first, and he and others started helping people off the train.
Vermont State Police and local fire and rescue agencies responded to the derailment, and numerous emergency vehicles were at the site.
Associated Press writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.