Coast Starlight Still Waits for Clear Tracks

The Klamath Falls Station is empty and quiet with no Amtrak service for over a week. March 1, 2019 (Brian Gailey / Klamath Falls News)

The Klamath Falls Station is empty and quiet with no Amtrak service for over a week. March 1, 2019 (Brian Gailey / Klamath Falls News)

Passengers are still waiting to get to their destination following getting stuck on a train in Oakridge.

The Amtrak Coast Starlight runs from Seattle to Los Angeles. The train is scheduled to pass through Klamath Falls twice daily. Southbound, in the evening. Northbound, in the morning. Since the severe winter storm hit the Cascades earlier this week, the train has done neither.

Last Sunday, February 24, 2019, the southbound Coast Starlight became stranded in Oakridge after hitting a tree causing damage to the front engine. While stopped in Oakridge, they became caught in the middle of the storm that caused ten Oregon counties to declare a State of Emergency. Heavy snow, and fallen trees blocked the tracks ahead and behind the train. Forcing Amtrak to stay in place until, help from Union Pacific could arrive.

It took crews from Union Pacific several days to clear the 50-miles of tracks between Eugene and Oakridge. Once cleared, a UP engine connected to the passenger train towing it back to Eugene. Two days after becoming stranded in the mountains.

The Weiss Family ended up right back to where they started. They were intending to spend a vacation in the Los Angeles area.

After the train arrived back in Eugene, on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, Amtrak COO, Scott Naparstek said, “We sincerely regret the extended delay customers on the southbound Coast Starlight experienced due to extreme weather issues. With more than a foot of heavy snow and numerous trees blocking the track, we made every decision in the best interest of the safety of our customers during the unfortunate sequence of events.”

Naparstek also stated, “We will be contacting customers to provide refunds and other compensation as appropriate.”

Normal operations for the Coast Starlight are currently expected to resume on March 3.

Getting to the Destination

As of Friday, March 1, 2019, 6-days after the train became stuck in Oakridge, some passengers are still waiting for Amtrak to get them to their destination. Others changed their plans. Yet many gave up on waiting and found other methods of transport.

Sylvia Jaye had family stuck on the train. A stepdaughter, two nieces and a nephew, all under the age of 10. “They are still in Eugene with family…we don’t know when they’ll make it back to Klamath,” says Jaye.

“I feel Amtrak handled it great with one exception, there was no notification of this stranded train on the train delays feature of their website,” said Audrey Weiss. “But the crew on train 11 was great. I think until I saw the actual photos of highway 58 and of the tracks, I did not really comprehend just how huge the disaster was and the task of clearing the tracks / road would be. Yes we kind of had to say goodbye to our vacation, but that is just life.”

Kimberly Song had her daughter on the train when it became stuck in Oakridge. “My husband drove her down today [3/1/19], says Song. “They were originally scheduled to take the Amtrak back today but Amtrak canceled for today’s schedule.”

In an email forwarded to KFN from Song, Amtrak states: “We wanted to let you know that train #11, the Coast Starlight, from Salem, Oregon - Train Station on Friday, March 1st, has been CANCELLED due to a service disruption. Unfortunately, we don't have other transportation available.”

“We are working with passengers on an individual basis to determine their options,” says Olivia Irvin, Public Relations Manager for Amtrak. “Safety is our number one priority we will not resume service until we can ensure the current weather conditions are safe.”

Alternative Transportation?

With this process, and all the trouble passengers have had to deal with, questions have come up:

  • Why not bus passengers over or around a different section of the Cascades to another train station south of the affected area?

  • Why are passengers being forced to stay in Eugene and wait for the tracks across the mountains to be cleared?

  • Why is there a lack of communication between Amtrak and the people on the train?

As of press time, the only response by Amtrak is, “There is no alternative transportation as we cant get buses safely through that route,” says Irvin.

KFN asked for clarification; as to why buses could not be used to transport passengers south on Interstate 5 and across Oregon 140 back to Klamath Falls to connect with a southbound train - or, why are the passengers being bused farther south to Dunsmuir or Redding rather than force them to stay in Eugene.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for Amtrak to respond.

From the Editor

Over this past week, I have spoken with many people that were either on the stuck train, or had friends and family on the train. Most all were confused and did not understand why Amtrak had not provided more information to the public.

One party even said that, “Nothing was happening until the media became involved.”

With all that said, I never communicated with anyone that was furious or upset with Amtrak. All were positive and had good things to say about the experience, with the exception of wanting better communication.

Map of the Coast Starlight. (Wikipedia)