Amtrak train was stranded for 36 hours with 183 passengers aboard in Oregon
Jay Croft and Gianluca Mezzofiore, CNN
(CNN) — A train with almost 200 people on board is finally moving again after 36 hours stuck on a snowy stretch of track south of Eugene, Oregon, Amtrak said Tuesday morning.
No one was hurt when the train hit a tree that had fallen onto the tracks Sunday evening, the company said. And one passenger reported a “kumbaya” atmosphere during the ordeal.
The train is being pulled by a Union Pacific locomotive back toward Eugene, said Tim McMahan, spokesman for Union Pacific, which owns the Oregon rail line where the train had been stranded.
“The train had been inoperable due to weather conditions and downed trees,” McMahan told CNN in an email. “UP crews worked overnight to clear the tracks.”
Passenger Emilie Wyrick told CNN the train moved about a half-mile Tuesday morning — before stopping again.
And Amtrak said it expects more delays as the formerly Los Angeles-bound train heads back north.
“We’ll move for a few hundred yards, then we stop. It’s going to be like this for hours,” said Wyrick. “They have to manually switch every signal we come across to ensure the train and any cars that may be crossing are all safe.”
While they were stalled all those hours at Oakridge, passengers could see a deserted stretch of Oregon Highway 58, closed due to snow and ice. The town of Oakridge had no electricity due to the weather, passenger Rebekah Dodson said.
The National Weather Service had predicted Sunday that up to 2 feet of snow could fall in the area. By Tuesday morning, at least a foot had accumulated, the weather service said. Oakridge averages 1.1 inches in February.
Eugene, home to the University of Oregon about 45 miles northwest, had a record-setting 9.5 inches Monday, the weather service said.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that while none of the 183 passengers and dozen crew members were injured, “conditions further deteriorated with numerous track blockages from snow and fallen trees.”
Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said in a Tuesday morning statement that the company had decided leaving passengers on the train was the safest option.
“We sincerely regret the extended delay customers on the southbound Coast Starlight experienced due to extreme weather issues while traveling with Amtrak,” he said. “With local power outages and blocked roads, it was decided the safest place for our customers was to remain on the train where we were able to provide food, heat, electricity and toilets.”
Amtrak will contact customers to provide refunds and “other compensation as appropriate,” Naparstek said.
‘A giant kumbaya party’
With the help of heat, power and food, a passenger said the mood on board had remained surprisingly upbeat.
“It’s just been like a giant kumbaya party,” Dodson told CNN early Tuesday. “Strangers are playing cards. A teenager played his ukulele to kids to get them to sleep. Ladies who have never met before were dancing in aisles.”
Still, she said, the “hardship” had been stressful as passengers could not go anywhere. The stranded train was surrounded by feet of snow. Some Los Angeles-bound college students had “panicked” because their professors wouldn’t accept their excuse for missing class, Dodson said.
Dodson said Tuesday morning that passengers had been told breakfast would be the last meal available.
She said the passengers include families with children and a few dozen college students — including about 20 students from Japan. Crew members had been “professional and nice” throughout.
The service operates daily between Seattle and Los Angeles, Magliari said.
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