Stopped in their tracks

Patricia Bailey, center, and Annette Saba, right, celebrate as they disembark an Amtrak passenger train in Eugene, Ore. on Tuesday. A Lincoln Township woman, Kimberly Shelton, and her daughter were stranded on the train with 181 other passengers for nearly 40 hours.

EUGENE, Ore. — Kimberly Shelton and her daughter were expecting a pleasant train ride to San Francisco from Oregon on Sunday night.

Instead, they found themselves stranded for more than 40 hours after the Amtrak train they were on hit a downed tree in Oregon, stopping the train and stranding 183 passengers.

The train, which was heading to Los Angeles from Seattle, stopped in Oakridge, Ore., around 6:20 p.m. (Pacific time) Sunday. By Monday night, passengers remained stuck inside the train as heavy snow and road closures in the area reportedly made it difficult to get to them. 

Kimberly, a Lincoln Township resident, was taking the trip with her daughter, who had just graduated college in December.

“Our nerves are shot. The train took some damage and the braking system was disabled,” Kimberly told The Herald-Palladium on Tuesday. “We were in the middle of a snowstorm and they said there were hundreds of trees that fell on the track. It’s taken a day to clear everything.”

She said they knew something was wrong when the train began to tilt and came to a stop.

Shortly after stopping, the conductor notified passengers that a tree had fallen and damaged the braking system.

The weather conditions were terrible, as that region of Oregon was hit with heavy, wet snow. Kimberly said she was told they received 15 to 20 inches of snow.

“The wet snow on the big pine trees just snapped the branches,” she said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the train began to slowly make its way back to the train station in Eugene, Ore. Kimberly said the train kept a slow pace because of the faulty brake system.

Amtrak said in a statement that no one was injured and it was working with Union Pacific to clear a way to the passengers. Union Pacific spokesman Tim McMahan said passengers were rerouted back to Eugene and Portland.

After they got back to the station Tuesday, Kimberly rented a car and drove to Portland.

Mike Shelton, Kimberly’s husband, was critical of Amtrak and the lack of communication. He said he spoke with five or six different Amtrak agents within a 36-hour time frame.

“I understand that things happen. You get stuck on the airplane from the tarmac for a couple of hours. You get a bus stuck in a traffic jam. But I was extremely disappointed with Amtrak,” Mike said. “They wouldn’t have any information, every time I called. Even after about 27 hours of them being stranded, some of them didn’t know what was going on.”

After the train hit the tree on Sunday, Mike said he learned the conductor was removed from the stranded train Monday afternoon. He said another conductor didn’t show until Tuesday morning.

Kim and Mike stayed in communication through phone calls and text messages Sunday through Tuesday.

As the hours went by, Mike said it became more tense for his wife and stepdaughter.

“This was meant to be a nice trip for Kim and her daughter,” Mike said. “To make matters worse, they had never been on a train before. Luckily, Kim had reserved a sleeper car for their 15-hour trip. They’ve got a lot better accommodations than others.”

Kimberly said they planned the trip over the past couple months, where they had anticipated visiting Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. It was planned as an “attagirl trip” for her daughter, who graduated college with no student loans in under four years.

The were both due to come home by Wednesday night after their excursion into San Francisco. However, they are cutting the trip short.

“Everyone will have to find alternative transportation,” Kimberly said Tuesday night. “We are trying to get out of Oregon at the moment. My daughter will have to fly home to Tulsa at some point.”

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