Watch CBS News

Avalanche, Rockslide Shuts Down Amtrak Travel Through Sierra

RENO (CBS SF/AP) -- Amtrak says two trains together carrying nearly 300 passengers to and from the Bay Area stopped and reversed directions due to a railroad track closure in the Sierra Nevada.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a westbound train bound for Northern California on the California Zephyr route halted Tuesday at Reno and early Wednesday headed back toward Chicago while an eastbound train that left Emeryville stopped at Roseville before turning around.

Magliari said Amtrak put the passengers in Reno up for the night in a hotel and provided charter buses to resume their journey.

The avalanche sent snow onto the tracks owned by Union Pacific at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at Donner Pass about 10 miles west of Truckee.

Union Pacific spokesman Tim McMahan said crews are still working to clear the tracks. He says there's no estimate on when they will reopen.

The stormy week raised havoc on Amtrak travel elsewhere in the west.

An Amtrak train with almost 200 people aboard hit downed trees during a blizzard and got stranded in the Oregon mountains for a day and a half, but passengers and crew banded together during the ordeal that ended Tuesday.

"It was really nice to meet people pulling together," passenger Tracy Rhodes, of Scottsdale, Arizona, said in a phone interview after the train that had been traveling from Seattle to Los Angeles rolled back into the college town of Eugene, Oregon, with a clanging bell announcing its arrival. Passengers spilled out, some waving their arms high in jubilation.

During the 36 hours that the train was stuck, younger passengers helped older ones reach their families to let them know they were all right, said Rhodes, who was traveling with her brother to visit their 82-year-old mother in Klamath Falls, Oregon. A "mom brigade" was formed to take care of and entertain the children, she said.

"People were being very kind to each other, being friends," Rhodes said. "It restores your faith."

The trouble began Sunday evening, when the double-decker Coast Starlight train struck a tree that had fallen onto the tracks, Amtrak said.

Rhodes said the train stopped suddenly but not violently. She was told the engine hit several snow-laden trees and that one snapped back, damaging a hose assembly providing air pressure for the brakes. The train was repaired enough to move forward a short distance to Oakridge, Oregon, a town 1,200 feet (366 meters) high in the Cascade Range that was dealing with its own problems — a blackout and snow and debris-covered roads.

Railroad officials decided to keep the passengers on board instead of letting them into the town of 3,200 people.

Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said the railroad regretted the extended delay.

"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," Naparstek said, adding that customers would get refunds and other compensation.

Amtrak spokeswoman Olivia Irvin said weather and track obstructions remained an issue and that the Coast Starlight would run only south of Sacramento until Friday.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.