Updated: January 12, 10:15 a.m. MST
By Justin Franz
CHICAGO — Winter weather in Montana and the Pacific Northwest has disrupted service on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route for nearly a week, but it looks like things might finally right themselves in the coming days.
A series of storms and derailments on BNSF Railway in the Pacific Northwest last week, specifically two derailments in Washington, had already gummed up Amtrak’s timekeeping. But those problems got even worse on the night of Friday, January 7, when an avalanche on Montana’s Marias Pass impacted the right-of-way about eight miles east of Essex. According to the Flathead Avalanche Center, the slide was 60-feet wide and up to 15-feet deep in some places. The slide halted all rail traffic over the pass. One of the last trains to get through the area was Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, BNSF crews were dispatched to the scene of the slide to clear snow using bulldozers and Jordan Spreaders. The tracks were cleared by Saturday afternoon and freight service resumed shortly after. Traditionally, after an avalanche or mudslide, Amtrak will wait a few days before resuming service. Amtrak had hoped to get trains moving again on Wednesday from both Chicago and Portland/Seattle. But on Wednesday, the railroad announced it would not be running until Saturday thanks to an equipment and crew imbalance.