At around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 7, 2013, mud, rocks and trees hit an Amtrak passenger train traveling through Washington State, causing several cars to derail. The mudslide had knocked off a dining car and two coach cars, which were the last three cars on the train, known as the Empire Builder.
Marc Magliari, a spokesperson for Amtrak, confirmed to the Associated Press that there were 86 passengers and 11 crew members on board the train traveling to Seattle from Chicago. There were no injuries or deaths reported.
The mudslide, including earth, rocks and trees, fell about 100 feet down a slope and covered the tracks in debris roughly 30-feet-long and 15-feet-deep.
Passengers were immediately transferred to chartered buses that were headed to Seattle, about 30 miles from the scene of the accident, according to Amtrak. Those who paid but chose not to travel because of the service disruption can receive a full refund for their trip.
It is still unclear as to how long Amtrak passenger service would be affected by the mudslide. The tracks where Empire Builder was traveling on have been damaged and were last closed on Mar. 21. As of Sunday, they have been closed until further notice.
Washington state has faced numerous mudslides this past autumn, winter and spring. It has been a problematic experience for the state and the train agency because the tracks have been closed repeatedly since October. One freight train had derailed in October.
Gus Melonas, a spokesperson for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), which owns the tracks, noted that it is investigating, alongside Amtrak, as to what exactly caused the mudslide. The organization is looking at solutions to stop mudslides in the area. It has been tracking slide activity in the area for the past 100 years.
“This is the top sixth year, in terms of the most problematic situations we’ve faced, with slide and after slide. We’ve had over 200 in the winter season for 2012-2013,” Melonas said in an interview with NEWS1130.
“This has been one of the most problematic years we've faced, historically. Day after day, after day, after day of excessive rainfall,” Melonas also told Q13 Fox affiliate. “When you operate through an area with waterway on one side, cliffs on the other and your railroad in the middle debris is going to come off these high cliffs and unfortunately we’re at the bottom and sometimes you have to pay the price.”