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Illinois woman sues Amtrak over Montana crash – Crain’s Chicago Business

A southern Illinois woman severely injured in this weekend’s Amtrak derailment in Montana has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the passenger train company on behalf of her husband, who was killed in the crash, providing harrowing details of her attempts to find him in the wreckage.

The federal lawsuit, brought today by Fairview Heights resident Rebecca Schneider, also accuses Amtrak and the BNSF Railway Company of negligence and infliction of emotional distress caused by the derailment that left three people dead and injured dozens more who boarded the train in downtown Chicago for the trip to Seattle and Portland. (Read the lawsuit below.) It’s the first of what could be a flood of lawsuits triggered by the crash. 

Schneider’s husband, Zach Schneider, a 28-year-old software engineer, was in a viewing car and died of injuries to his head and body, the lawsuit says. He was one of 141 riders and 14 crew members on the train when it veered from the tracks near Joplin on Sunday afternoon, causing four cars to flip on their side. 

“This accident and the death and destruction it caused was entirely preventable,” says the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint calls the derailment “another in a long list of devastating and fatal train derailments caused by the negligence and carelessness of Defendants Amtrak and BNSF.”

A spokesman for Amtrak, which owns Union Station, issued a statement in response to the lawsuit: “Amtrak is sorry for Mrs. Schneider’s and the Schneider family’s loss. We are offering assistance to injured passengers and employees and the families of those who have lost loved ones but are otherwise unable to comment on pending litigation.”

BNSF, which owns and operates the tracks, declined to comment, saying it doesn’t discuss active litigation

Rebecca Schneider was in a sleeper car and suffered “life-altering injuries” as well as “unfathomable grief and emotional and psychological injuries” following the death of her husband, the lawsuit says. They were in separate cars at the time of the derailment, and she was thrown about the cabin. Rebecca managed to climb out of her car after a crew member smashed a window with a sledgehammer, and she “frantically” searched for Zach, the lawsuit says. 

“After escaping the train car, Rebecca approached the flipped and mangled viewing car where she knew her husband, Zach, was at the time of the derailment. Plaintiff screamed his name over, and over, but heard nothing,” the lawsuit says.

The pair met at Southern Illinois University as undergraduates, married in 2016 and enjoyed fostering kittens and dogs from animal shelters in their spare time, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit, which attorneys say is the first filed in connection with the derailment, alleges that poorly maintained or defective tracks, negligent train operation or a severe malfunction was to blame for the crash, citing “systematic failures of Amtrak to have an adequate culture in place to ensure safety on its railways.” The lawsuit references six collisions and derailments between 1998 and 2018 that led to hundreds of injuries and 15 deaths. 

Amtrak operates one of the largest passenger rail services in North America, having transported a record 32.5 million passengers in 2019. It’s currently seeking government funding to vastly expand its footprint in the Midwest and offer more long-distance trips to destinations like the Twin Cities and Madison, Wis.; Louisville, Ky.; Cleveland; Detroit; and Iowa City, Iowa.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and expected to release a preliminary report within the next 30 days. BNSF employees inspected the tracks two days before the collision and one of its freight trains traversed the same switchpoint about 80 minutes before the derailment, the lawsuit says. With Montana temperatures hitting the mid-80s Sunday, the tracks, which are about 20 to 30 degrees hotter, should have been able to withstand buckling, the lawsuit says. 

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