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January 27, 2014 at 5:35 PM

Amtrak passengers stuck for 6 hours at Ferndale

Passengers on an Amtrak Cascades train sat for six hours in Ferndale, Whatcom County, on Sunday night, because a freight train had become uncoupled and blocked the tracks ahead.

Train 517 left Vancouver, B.C., for Seattle around 5:45 p.m. with about 300 people aboard, said passenger Rachel Lane, 34, who said she was returning from a birthday trip, accompanied by her partner and sister.

At 7:40 p.m. the Cascades train stopped, and a conductor explained over the intercom that a coal train had become uncoupled on the track, according to Lane.  Two people got off the train in Ferndale, and caught a cab on a roadside, without being restrained by railroad staff, she said.

The train crew provided snacks of cheese, nuts and water. When the coal train was fixed, around 1:40 a.m., Monday, it continued northbound, and Lane saw it pass to her left as the conductor gave an update.

BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas confirmed Monday that a freight train had mechanical issues, needing maintenance for several hours — a rare situation, he said. “BNSF apologizes about any inconveniences on this one.”

Lane said the train arrived in Everett at 3:15 a.m, six hours after the 9:09 p.m. schedule. She caught a few hours sleep at home in Mill Creek, then drove her sister to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for a flight.

Washington state is spending more than $800 million in federal stimulus money to establish “high-speed rail,” including bypass tracks to separate freight from passenger trains.  Efforts to build clientele on the northern stretch of the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene passenger corridor are hindered by the ever-present chance of slowdown, though not generally this bad.

It’s not unusual for freight trains to occupy either of the two mainline tracks, or take turns going through single-track zones. Overall, Cascades trains have  80 percent on-time performance, an Amtrak website says.

Lane said one of her life dreams was to ride Amtrak from San Francisco to Chicago, but now says she won’t.  The train crew were helpful, but she blames the railroad-dispatch officials for failing to find a better solution.

“The fact is, this is a customer-service business, and they rely on our dollars to continue,” she said. “It doesn’t seem very caring.”

Amtrak and state rail officials hadn’t returned messages seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Comments | More in General news, Traffic & Transit | Topics: Amtrak; railroad; coal train

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