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Old 04-25-2003, 01:01 PM
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Default The train that nearly couldn't..Riders on 'Star Late' endure 31-hour trip The train that nearly couldn't
Riders on 'Star Late' endure 31-hour trip
By Corey Lyons

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An Amtrak employee in Portland, Ore., inspects the Coast Starlight on Thursday after the train was towed from Klamath Falls. (John Gress/Special to the Contra Costa Times)

An Amtrak train limped into Oregon early Thursday more than 17 hours behind schedule, with hundreds of miffed passengers who rode out a collision with a crane, a power outage and an overused bathroom.

The embattled Seattle-bound Coast Starlight train was pulled from service in Portland after a trip from Martinez that took twice as long as usual.

None of the 360 passengers was hurt. Just sleep-deprived and peeved.

"It was half Twilight Zone, half train ride from hell," said one rider, Sarah-Grace Rothgery of Concord.

"It was an absolute mess," said Rothgery's boyfriend, Tom Hartnett, who kept tabs from Concord on a cell phone.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the logistics of the breakdowns prevented them from transferring the passengers onto buses to finish the troubled, 31-hour trip.

The Coast Starlight -- or, as Oregon locals call it, the "Star Late" -- runs daily between Los Angeles and Seattle.

In most cases, it's a picturesque journey shadowing the Pacific coastline, with lava flows, rugged canyons and pine-covered groves coloring its windows.

Train No. 14 left Martinez at 12:38 a.m. Wednesday, already about 90 minutes late.

The first sign of trouble occurred about 7:45 a.m., when the train clipped a small crane that had been leaning into the tracks about 20 minutes south of Dunsmuir, 50 miles north of Redding.

The mishap knocked out power on the train.

Rothgery, a 24-year-old Diablo Valley College student en route to visit relatives in Albany, Ore., was jolted from a nap.

"The brakes were frozen. The engine was spewing noxious fluids. And we couldn't get off the train," she said in a phone interview. "There was no power. One toilet."

Union Pacific, which owns most of the tracks that Amtrak uses in California, accepted blame for the crane accident.

A crew had left the equipment in a bad spot. Three crew members are being investigated for drug use, according to a Union Pacific spokesman.

The slow-moving train, meanwhile, made it to Dunsmuir without electricity. Chicken pot pies, salads and other food items aboard spoiled in the outage.

Passengers crawled out of the train and into the wet streets of Dunsmuir, which grew up around a railroad line in the 1880s.

Sarah Swain, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said the area was too remote to reach passengers with alternate transportation.

"We contract with bus companies, but it wasn't a good fit in this situation," she said.

"We like to avoid inconvenience. But in this case, it was out of our control."

Rothgery, tired and hungry, "smoked a cigarette and wandered around in the rain" until a fellow passenger bought her a slice of pizza.

Seven hours later, after electricity was restored, the trip began again. At a stop about 5:50 p.m. in Klamath Falls, Ore., another delay struck the slumping Starlight.

Crew members handed out 360 Subway sandwiches to the waiting passengers as federal inspectors tried to figure out whether the train could push on alone.

"They determined that it couldn't," Swain said.

So Union Pacific locomotives helped pull the train to Portland.

About 7 a.m. Thursday, 31 hours after boarding in Martinez, Rothgery climbed off in Albany. Free at last.

"I was near tears, with a horrible headache," she said. "My back hurt. I had two nights sleeping on a train. I'm ready to see my grandparents, who are in their 90s. I lost a day with my family.

"But," she went on, "it's not the worst thing. It's frustrating. I'm angry. I just need some sleep."

Last edited by 82Rigger; 07-14-2008 at 12:59 AM.
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