News & Reviews News Wire Slide threat cancels Pacific Surfliners, Coast Starlight; Auto Train sees massive delay (updated)

Slide threat cancels Pacific Surfliners, Coast Starlight; Auto Train sees massive delay (updated)

By Bob Johnston | January 11, 2023

Detour because of derailment also disrupts Silver Meteor

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Passenger train running along beach
Passenger train running along beach
A southbound Pacific Surfliner skirts the beach north of Carpenteria, Calif., in 2013. All service has been suspended in the area as a result of mudslides and flooding. Bob Johnston

LOS ANGELES — Extensive flooding and mudslides in the Santa Barbara area caused by more than a week of continuous rain pounding California’s coast have resulted in the cancelation of all Amtrak service north of Los Angeles through at least today (Wednesday, Jan. 11)

The Coast Starlight had been cancelled north of Sacramento as a result of flooding last week [see “Weather cancellations impact Amtrak …,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 6, 2023], but the outage was extended to the entire route for trains leaving Seattle Sunday and Los Angeles Monday.

With the flood threat moving south, the north Starlight is originating at Emeryville, Calif., rather than Oakland, and terminating there for the southbound from Seattle for trains departing Jan. 11.

An internal Amtrak advisory obtained by News Wire said tracks between Goleta (north of Santa Barbara) and San Luis Obispo “will be closed from 10 to 16 days while Union Pacific crews complete repair work.” As a result, morning northbound train no. 761 out of Los Angeles is cancelled and southbound morning Surfliner 774 to San Diego, which normally originates in San Luis Obispo, will begin its run in Los Angeles. In the afternoon, train nos. 794 (southbound) and 777 (northbound) will originate and terminate, respectively, at Goleta. As of midday Wednesday, none of these cancelations were reflected in Amtrak’s reservation system.

However, while there is no advisory, the Coast Starlight is showing “sold out” south of Emeryville every day until Friday, Jan. 27. Passengers traveling to the Los Angeles area from north of Sacramento are given a “mixed service” option transferring to an Amtrak Thruway bus at Sacramento, a San Joaquin at Stockton, Calif., and another bus at Bakersfield, though passengers could avoid one of the bus segments by changing to a San Joaquin at Martinez, Calif.

Metrolink commuter trains will continue operating from Los Angeles to Oxnard, Calif., and Surfliner service is still running a reduced schedule south to San Diego with the aid of a bus bridge [see “Rainy weather delays effort to fix rail line …,” News Wir,e Jan. 10]. Pacific Surfliners have a “status update” link separate from the “Amtrak Alerts” Twitter feed, but neither shows disruptions to both services together.

Freight derailment sidelines Auto Train, disrupts Silver Meteor

Passenger train with auto racks departs station
The northbound Auto Train departs Sanford, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 9. The train was forced to detour off its normal route because of a CSX derailment that led to the cancellation of both directions of Tuesday’s Auto Trains. David Lassen

Meanwhile, 20 cars of a CSX freight train derailed after it struck a stalled automobile at a Lake City, S.C., highway crossing on the evening of Jan. 9. The accident occurred south of Florence, S.C. after the southbound Palmetto had passed, but the northbound and southbound Auto Train and Silver Meteor were forced to detour over the Silver Star’s route through Raleigh and Hamlet, N.C.

Monday’s southbound Auto Train suffered a lengthy delay when its crew ran out of time under the federal hours-of-service law, and was still in South Carolina some 24 hours after departure, and more than 7 hours after it was supposed to have arrived in Sanford, Fla. The wait for a replacement crew was complicated by the fact that only a small number of crews are certified to run the lengthy consist of passenger cars and auto racks. ABC News reports some passengers were apparently calling 911 during the delay, based on videos in which a crew member asks passengers to please stop calling police.

The train status feature on Amtrak’s website shows the train finally arrived in Sanford at 6:03 a.m. today (Wednesday, Jan. 11), some 20 hours, 4 minutes late. Monday’s northbound Auto Train arrived in Lorton at 6:53 p.m. on Tuesday, almost 9 hours late.

In light of the lengthy delay, Amtrak canceled the Auto Train in both directions Tuesday. The northbound Star and Meteor combined, and were running more than 6 hours off the Star’s schedule, with the Meteor more than 14 hours late. The southbound Meteor also detoured, but an Amtrak alert said that Monday’s train would terminate at Hamlet, with alternate transportation provided for the otherwise stranded passengers from there.

— News Wire editor David Lassen contributed to this report. Updated at 6:50 a.m. CST with southbound Auto Train arriving in Florida; updated at 1:05 p.m. CST with additional details on Amtrak service disruptions in California.

7 thoughts on “Slide threat cancels Pacific Surfliners, Coast Starlight; Auto Train sees massive delay (updated)

  1. OH Boo Hoo East coast snowflakes got inconvenienced so they call 911 & make national news “because this sort of thing isn’t suppose to happen to people like us”. Never any national story about EB or CZ record tardy arrivals. Its not like they can bus the AT psgrs around the derailment since they brought their cars with them & their luggage is probably in that car. If you’re that attached to having your own car on vacation just drive!

  2. No kidding. As reported on national news….passengers on the Auto Train called 911 for the police saying they were being held hostage on the train and were asking for help.

    Amtrak finally came on the PA and reminded passengers to quit calling 911 and that they were not being held hostage.

    This is a joke.

  3. Auto Train is a freight train with passenger cars on the head end. It is NOT the same. Many Amtrak engineers are promoted Amtrak conductors who never ran a freight train or worked in freight service. Also, the detour route has but one Amtrak train running over it. So that would reduce the number of available crews qualified over the route. AND, Hamlet is the crew change point for Amtrak. So that would require two crews.
    Auto Train is long, heavy and requires a completely different way of operating than a short light train. What should have been done, if available, is put a CSX crew on the train with an Amtrak RFE or TM aboard as an “equipment” pilot.

  4. So, does this mean people certified for the Silver Star aren’t necessarily certified for the AutoTrain? Do the autoracks really make a difference in crew qualification? In any event, it appears that AMTRAK needs to get more people qualified. Further, it appears that AMTRAK headquarters left the on-board crew out to dry, failing to keep them up to date (such that, apparently, passengers thought they were being held hostage).

    1. Train handling for Auto Train is much different than “normal” passenger train handling and requires special training. One significant factor is that passenger trains use Graduated Braking for train control which permits the engineer to release the airbrakes gradually. This is not possible on Auto Train. The difference in skills is analogous to driving your average sedan vs. an 80,000 lb. tractor-trailer.

  5. Why is it not possible under these circumstances to waive the time rules to bring a train to a station or safe place to disembark to busses?
    Between Via’s issues on the 24th and Amtrack’s in the northwest this seems to a bad year for passenger train crews.

    1. Givernment is not going to waive rules such as these.
      Common Sense sets a bad precedent and creates unreasonable expectations.

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