Hannah Hartley, Guest writer
Sunday, Feb. 24 started as a normal day for many of the 183 passengers who boarded the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train 11. The southbound train departed late Sunday afternoon, but barely made it over 300 miles before striking a fallen tree near Oakridge, Ore. Due to extreme weather conditions, the locomotive empire told its passengers that conditions were too dangerous to send in a crew to clear the tracks at the time. “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 during the unfortunate sequence of events,” said Scot Naparstek, Executive Vice President and COO of Amtrak.
The route taken by the Starlight runs from Seattle to Los Angeles, and is known as one of the most beautiful train rides in the nation. Amtrak is proud of its many amenities, and boasts a wide array of passenger options including optional sleeping quarters. Regardless of these potential luxuries, passengers were upset by the major delay and began taking to social media platforms to explain the scenario from their perspectives. Kim Shelton said, “There has been so little communication from Amtrak. I am very disappointed.” Despite negative comments from patrons, the company continued to reiterate to the public that every decision made was in the best interest of the passengers.
In a video interview courtesy of NBC News, passengers explained that meals were free to those on board, but the public took to social media, calling on Amtrak to “take care of the people that trusted you.” In response, Amtrak tweeted at 8:30 pm on Monday Feb. 25, “We apologize for the confusion. Passengers on this train are not being charged for food or water. We are doing everything in our power to make sure they are comfortable.” Rebecca Dotson, one of the few passengers on board with cell phone reception, said in a phone interview that the crew was “polite and professional” even when facing this difficult situation.
Ultimately, it was Union Pacific, another train company, that assisted in getting the Starlight moving and back to Eugene, Ore. Working through the night to get the tracks fixed and safe for travel, the crew had the Starlight moving by 7:20 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26. None of the 183 passengers on board were injured, and UP gave further explanation for Amtrak’s decision to keep all patrons on board during the stop. “With only two small hotels in town they don’t want to separate the passengers prior to having them reboard for departure,” Union Pacific stated.