After more than 36 hours in limbo, dozens of passengers exited an Amtrak train that had been stranded in deep snow in Oregon feeling a mix of relief and frustration.
“We really wanted for nothing except for maybe someplace comfortable to lie down and a shower,” passenger Marcia Trujillo told CNN affiliate KOIN shortly after leaving the train.
The train — originally bound for Los Angeles — arrived Tuesday afternoon in Eugene, Oregon, with nearly 200 people aboard. It was the first time most of them had a chance to leave the train since Sunday.
At the platform, they ate muffins, talked to reporters and carried their luggage away before leaving the station.
“We played cards, we took naps and we looked at the snow piling up (outside),” passenger Alberto Hernandez told KOIN as he left the station.
But for some passengers, the journey in the train is still far from over.
Some opted to find their own transportation from Eugene but many are riding the train back north.
The train is now on it’s way to Portland after receiving maintenance and will continue to Seattle, Amtrak spokesperson Olivia Irvin said.
Crews worked overnight to clear train tracks
The train had been stuck in the small town of Oakridge after hitting a tree that had fallen onto the tracks Sunday evening, Amtrak said.
It arrived at the Eugene station on Tuesday, hours after a Union Pacific locomotive began pulling it, said Tim McMahan, spokesman for Union Pacific, which owns the Oregon rail line where the train was stranded.
“The train had been inoperable due to weather conditions and downed trees,” McMahan told CNN in an email. “UP crews worked overnight to clear the tracks.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Passenger Emilie Wyrick said the train moved about a half-mile before stopping again.
“We’ll move for a few hundred yards, then we stop. It’s going to be like this for hours,” said Wyrick. “They have to manually switch every signal we come across to ensure the train and any cars that may be crossing are all safe.”
While they were stalled all those hours at Oakridge, passengers could see a deserted stretch of Oregon Highway 58, closed due to snow and ice. The town of Oakridge had no electricity because of the weather, passenger Rebekah Dodson said.
The National Weather Service had predicted Sunday that up to 2 feet of snow could fall in the area. By Tuesday morning, at least a foot had accumulated, the weather service said. Oakridge averages 1.1 inches in February.
Eugene, home to the University of Oregon about 45 miles northwest, had a record-setting 9.5 inches on Monday, the weather service said.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that while none of the 183 passengers and dozen crew members were injured, “conditions further deteriorated with numerous track blockages from snow and fallen trees.”
Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said in a Tuesday morning statement that the company had decided leaving passengers on the train was the safest option.
“We sincerely regret the extended delay customers on the southbound Coast Starlight experienced due to extreme weather issues while traveling with Amtrak,” he said. “With local power outages and blocked roads, it was decided the safest place for our customers was to remain on the train where we were able to provide food, heat, electricity and toilets.”
Amtrak will contact customers to provide refunds and “other compensation as appropriate,” Naparstek said.
‘A giant kumbaya party’
With the help of heat, power and food, a passenger said the mood on board had remained surprisingly upbeat.
“It’s just been like a giant kumbaya party,” Dodson said early Tuesday. “Strangers are playing cards. A teenager played his ukulele to kids to get them to sleep. Ladies who have never met before were dancing in aisles.”
Still, she said, the hardship had been stressful, because passengers could not go anywhere. The stranded train was surrounded by feet of snow. She said some Los Angeles-bound college students had panicked because their professors wouldn’t accept their excuse for missing class.
Dodson said Tuesday morning that passengers had been told breakfast would be the last meal available.
She said the passengers included families with children and a few dozen college students — including about 20 students from Japan. Crew members had been “professional and nice” throughout.
The service operates daily between Seattle and Los Angeles, Magliari said.