An Amtrak train traveling south through central Vermont derailed Monday morning after striking a rock slide, officials said.
The 10:30 a.m. ET accident occurred in the town of Northfield, about 10 miles south of Montpelier, the state capital. The train was carrying 98 passengers and four crew members.
Seven people were taken to hospitals, including one airlifted to a trauma center in New Hampshire, authorities said. None of the injuries appeared life-threatening, Amtrak said.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin blamed a “freak of nature,” saying a rock ledge above the train’s path broke off and tumbled into the tracks, which are also used by freight lines.
Five cars jumped the tracks, including the locomotive and lead passenger car, which fell into a brook. Shumlin said it did not appear the conductor could have done anything to avoid the collision.
The governor said passengers told him that the train did not appear to be traveling faster than the 59 mph speed limit. The track itself was state-of-the-art, and a freight train passed through the area Sunday night without incident, he said.
“There is no reason at this time to believe that there was any negligence on anyone’s part,” Shumlin said.
Nonetheless, investigators will examine inspections records for the track, which is owned by New England Central Railroad, he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration are sending investigators to the scene.
A passenger who was with his wife on a sightseeing trip said the ride was smooth until “we felt something hitting the train, which wasn’t normal, and then all hell broke loose.”
The engineer hit the brakes quickly, “but it was too late,” Rodger Bell said.
The Bells, from Windsor, Colorado, were “tossed around a bit” but weren’t hurt, the husband said.
He recalled seeing a set of wheels roll past his window just before his car jumped the tracks and ended up on a small embankment.
Ahead of him, the engine tumbled down a creek bed, he said.
The train was the “Vermonter,” the daily service that runs between St. Albans, Vermont and Washington, D.C. It is the only Amtrak service that runs on the track. It had just left Montpelier and its next scheduled stop was in Randolph when it derailed.
A conductor was among the injured, Gina Conn, a reporter for the Times Argus newspaper, told MSNBC.
The train is popular at this time of year with tourists looking to soak in the annual fall foliage throughout Vermont and New England. It travels 600 miles from northwestern Vermont to the nation’s capital. In 2014, the Vermonter served 88,000 passengers — about 241 per day.
A spokesman for Central Vermont Medical Center told local NBC affiliate WPTZ that 98 people were on board the train. The hospital has not yet received any patients, the station reported.
Bell said that after he and his wife got out of their car, they walked down the tracks and gathered with other passengers in a nearby yard, awaiting information on the next step. He said rescue workers “are doing a wonderful job, checking on everybody, making sure they are accounted for.”
Several dozen passengers were put on school buses headed for an armory near Norwich University, a private military school in Northfield, The Associated Press reported.
The accident will put the Vermonter out of service north of Springfield, Massachusetts for the foreseeable future, as crews remove the rocks, clear diesel fuel from the brook and rebuild the tracks, Shumlin said. Passengers who plan to use Amtrak service in that area will be bused to all stations between Springfield and Montpelier.