Management & Operations

Bad weather wreaks havoc on rail operations, track owners

Posted on February 1, 2005

Cruel winter conditions have made life difficult for a number of rail operations around the country, particularly in the western U.S. Heavy snow, ongoing rain and mudslides have washed out and frozen tracks and bridges, causing dozens of cancellations and delays for indefinite amounts of time. Amtrak felt the effects of the nation’s bad weather in mid-January when one of its trains, the California Zephyr, derailed near the Utah-Colorado line after crashing into a boulder that had landed on the tracks as a result of heavy snowstorms. The train was en route to Oakland, Calif., from Chicago with more than 100 passengers on board when the collision occurred, sending several cars off the tracks and giving six people minor bumps and bruises. “When things like this happen, certainly, we put a contingency plan in place, and we do the best we can to provide whatever alternative transportation to passengers is feasible,” said Sarah Swain, spokesperson for Amtrak. The Zephyr derailment and bad conditions elsewhere caused multiple Amtrak cancellations nationwide. In the meantime, Amtrak directed passengers to alternative lines and refunded tickets to western Colorado. Passengers were also able to visit Amtrak’s Website and call its hotline — (800) USA-RAIL — for updated information. “Passengers can call and get train status or updates on any type of service disruptions, and they can actually talk to someone who has the most up-to-date information,” Swain said. Other rail operations were also affected by weather. Several Metrolink commuter rail lines ran into problems after a mudslide in San Clemente, Calif., covered coastal railroad tracks, blocking rail access from Los Angeles to San Diego. Service was further disrupted in Ventura County, where record-high rainfall caused cancellations for up to two weeks on some routes. North County Transit District (NCTD) commuter rail lines in Oceanside, Calif., were also affected by mudslides and rain damage throughout December and January, leading to extensive delays. NCTD offered rebates to monthly pass holders after track repairs took longer than expected. Union Pacific Railroad (UP), which owns and maintains many of the affected tracks, deployed workers day and night to repair weather damage. John Bromley, director of public affairs for the company, said that the biggest problems were in California and Nevada. “We also had a washout up north of Las Vegas, part of the same [California] storms, and that line is expected to be reopened and fully operational by the end of January.” After repairs are finished, Bromley said UP will look into preventive measures that can improve the state of its tracks. “There are some things that we may go back and look at, see if there’s some slope work that might need more attention,” he said. He added that workers will be looking into improving the status of UP’s bridges for future storms. — TERESA BASICH

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