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EUGENE, Ore. — Passengers and crew who were stuck aboard an Amtrak train halted near the remote Oregon town of Oakridge since Sunday evening have at last arrived back in Eugene — meaning that most of those passengers will still need to find another way to reach their final destination.
Marla Edge and Beulah Davis are from Klamath Falls. They were traveling separately, but found each other by chance on the stranded train. They used to work together, and haven't seen each other for years.
"We were both returning our cars to Enterprise in Albany. I had already deposited my keys in the box, and I was getting in the cab to go to the train station," Davis said. "Then she said, 'Beulah!' I looked up and there she was."
The two had plenty of time to catch up.
On Sunday evening, the Amtrak Coast Starlight train 11 was traveling southeast from Eugene into the Cascade Mountains. Some of the passengers came from as far north as Seattle with destinations in California, although the train had stopped in Eugene with another stop planned in Klamath Falls — the final destination for many local passengers.
Just after 6 p.m. on Sunday, the train struck a downed tree laid out across the tracks. None of the 183 passengers and crew members aboard were injured, according to Amtrak. However, it was far from the end of their ordeal.
UPDATE: Coast Starlight Train 11 which departed Seattle (SEA) on 2/24 will terminate in Oak Ridge with no alternate transportation Chemult (CMO) to Los Angeles (LAX). Train will turn back to Seattle (SEA). Customers currently on-board will be taken back to their origin.
— Amtrak Alerts (@AmtrakAlerts) February 25, 2019
"Conditions further deteriorated with numerous track blockages from snow and fallen trees," Amtrak said.
Due to worsening conditions, road closures in the area and "no viable way to safely transport" the passengers away, the train stopped at Oakridge, the company said.
"We are actively working with Union Pacific to clear the right of way and get passengers off the train," said Olivia Irvin with Amtrak on Monday.
Irvin said that passengers were allowed off the train "due to unsafe weather conditions." The tiny town of Oakridge boasts a little more than 3,200 people, and those in the town weren't in a significantly better position — cut off from power and safe routes out of town due to the very same storm.
By Tuesday, passengers on the train who were able to post to social media reported being short on food and essentials such as diapers.
"There wasn't really any food this morning -- leftover packaged snacks [and] some coffee, which we were grateful for," Edge said. She added however that prior to that they had 3 meals per day, and added the crew was doing the absolute best they could.
That's something Davis echoed, both saying they appreciated all the crew's hard work.
"They did the best they could, and they did really well," Edge said.
Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek released the following statement on Tuesday morning:
We sincerely regret the extended delay customers on the southbound Coast Starlight experienced due to extreme weather issues while traveling with Amtrak. 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. 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 crews worked with local resources and the train is now enroute north to Eugene, Oregon. We will be contacting customers to provide refunds and other compensation as appropriate.
The train did indeed begin a slow, limping journey back to Eugene, arriving before noon at the train station it had departed nearly two days prior.