Mudslides halt Amtrak service in Pacific Northwest

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (BestGrowthStock) – Weekend mudslides unleashed by torrential rains in western Washington state prompted railroad officials to shut down passenger train service until early Tuesday on several major Pacific Northwest routes.

Amtrak trains were halted on Sunday as a safety precaution while crews cleared debris from tracks and inspected rain-soaked rail beds and adjacent slopes for stability, said Gus Melonas, spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), which owns and operates the region’s rail lines.

Melonas said Amtrak service was expected to resume at 4:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday south of Seattle and by 8 a.m. north of Seattle.

Except for a few brief interruptions over the weekend, BNSF managed to keep its freight traffic moving through the region by diverting those trains onto rail lines that remained unaffected by slides, he said.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings along numerous river basins after a warm, moist air mass originating from Hawaii and dubbed the Pineapple Express swept the Northwest with heavy showers on Saturday and Sunday.

The storm dumped 7 to 8 inches of rain in the north and central Cascades and Olympic Mountains, weather service forecaster Mike McFarland said.

While skies began clearing on Monday, flood warnings remained posted for parts of nine rivers across much of western Washington from Bellingham south to Olympia.

Three large mudslides triggered by heavy showers struck western Washington on Saturday, one of them sweeping car-sized boulders onto a rail line in the Columbia River Gorge-area of Wishram, Washington, Melonas said. A series of smaller slides blocked rail traffic on Saturday north of Seattle and near the Skykomish River on Sunday, he said.

As a result, passenger service was suspended for 48 hours on three major Amtrak routes — the Amtrak Cascades line from Portland to Vancouver, British Columbia; the Coast Starlight train between Seattle and Los Angeles and the Empire Builder connecting Portland and Seattle with Chicago, Amtrak said.

In some places, bus service was offered to passengers as an alternative.

Mudslides also were reported in some residential areas around the Seattle area, and utility crews in King County labored to contain wastewater overflows blamed on heavy rains that overwhelmed sewer lines and pumping stations.

A new weather system moving into the Northwest was expected to drop temperatures and dump up to 10 inches of snow in the Cascades on Monday night, weather bureau meteorologist Johnny Burg said.

McFarland said the Pacific Northwest as a whole was likely to experience, cooler, wetter conditions than normal through the winter due to a “La Nina” weather pattern that has formed in the waters of the central equatorial Pacific.

(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Greg McCune)

Mudslides halt Amtrak service in Pacific Northwest