UAS Response to Amtrak Vermonter Derailment


On Monday October 5, 2015, Amtrak's Vermonter train struck fallen rock and derailed just outside Northfield, VT.  The diesel locomotive and several passenger cars tumbled down an embankment.  There were many injuries, but thankfully no fatalities.  The location is "extremely rural", cut through dense forest, with very limited access.

The Vermont DOT immediately called the Vermont State University Spatial Analysis Lab for assistance.  A team of volunteers responded to the scene with an sUAS (The SenseFly eBee). 

Within 30 minutes of the call, they had airspace coordinated with the FAA and departed their lab. Upon arrival, they were airborne in 20 minutes and landed 20 minutes later. A KML in the hands of Incident command 20 minutes after that.  The incident commander had a 280 image based high resolution KML in his hands within an hour of their arrival!  After returning to their lab, they created a ortho mosaics to go along with it.

Outstanding work. Safe, fast, and free!

All of this is available on their blog about the response

Also covered on Slate:

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  • I'm not affiliated this group, so I don't know.

  • Excellent job and well done! Do you test open source systems as well? There are quite a few examples on this site of systems that work quite well which would cost much less and therefore allow for more effective use of your funding.

  • For those relatively new to sUAS this shouldn't be a "Wow, look at what we can do now" story.  It should be why the heck hasn't this been commonplace for at least a decade?

    The technology has been around for a couple decades.  It SHOULD have long since been a standard tool available to all Incident commanders in much the same way as thermal (IR) cameras are to firefighters.  The only reason it's not a common tool is fifteen years of hostility towards sUAS by the FAA.

  • Moderator

    Great story P2P thanks for posting this. I live about 90 miles due West from where this took place across the lake in NY state. As a matter of fact as I'm writing this there is a story about the derailment on TV right now!

    Let's hope we see more positive uses of UAS in the news in the year to come.


    Natahaniel ~KD2DEY

  • This looks like an excellent example of how it should happen.

    It would be really nice going forward if the available UAS facilities could be available easily for use to the various agencies who could make use of them.

    Clearly what is needed is some kind of national service and bulletin board for these services and the assorted agencies that might wish to make use of them.

    Perhaps along with listing of capabilities and types of response available from the UAS people.

    And possibly a listing of agencies and contacts that may wish to avail themselves of them.

    This is one of the most potentially beneficial avenues we have for validating UAS in the minds of the media, the government and the general public.

    One of the things that we need to be very aware of on our part is that the various agencies are only going to seek out this service if they can be assured that we will play entirely by their rules.

    These are generally emergency conditions and agencies tasked with dealing with them are used to taking full responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

    So this is going to have to be handled very professionally on our part with the full understanding that we will only perform those actions explicitly authorized by the overseeing agency.

    Just a thought, actually Chris, I think you and some of your high profile buddies might benefit us all by backing something like this.

    Low effort, low cost and maximum bang for the buck.

    Best Regards,


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