Amtrak derailment ‘like being thrown around like a rag doll’

Sounder and Amtrak customers are riding buses again rather than rail lines north of Seattle because of a mudslide that derailed a passenger train Sunday — the latest in what has been an exceptionally bad season for mudslides in that area.

Sounder service between Seattle and Everett is canceled Monday and Tuesday, when Sound Transit will provide special express buses to and from the Sounder stations. Amtrak expects to resume service Tuesday morning.

There were 200 slides during the fall and winter, 50 of them blocking tracks, BNSF Railway said in February.

The most spectacular hit a moving freight train in mid-December and derailed seven cars. A March 21 slide buried tracks in five feet of debris. Sound Transit has canceled a record number of Northline Sounder runs this rainy season.

None of the train’s 86 passengers and 11 crew members was hurt in Sunday’s slide just north of Howarth Park in Everett, which had little impact on some railcars but badly jostled others.

“We almost went over,” said Alicia Munds, of Silverdale, who had just awakened about 8:50 a.m. Sunday when the train suddenly jerked like something had hit it.

As her car, the last one on a train bound for Seattle, tipped to its side and started to pull up the tracks, Munds covered her sleeping 7-year-old daughter, Hannah, with her body. “It was like being thrown around like a rag doll,” Munds said of the experience.

“They hit the brakes immediately,” she recalled. “That engineer saved our lives. We would’ve been drug over,” she said.

Other passengers saw mud and trees sliding down a cliff and striking the train.

“We saw chunks of mud coming down and hitting the train, but it was not as scary as you’d think,” said Sherry Brooks, who boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder train in Chicago on Friday for a visit to her son in Seattle.

The train came to a halt with three cars derailed, two of them visibly tilted off the tracks. The train’s front cars transported passengers to Mukilteo, where they boarded buses for Edmonds and Seattle.

The slide, which BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas described as 15 feet high and 30 feet wide, prompted the company to issue a 48-hour moratorium on passenger trains on the railway’s double main line.

About a quarter mile of track was damaged, but freight trains were able to get through on the adjacent line Sunday and will resume travel on the line where the train was derailed sometime Monday, Melonas said.

Until passenger service resumes, Amtrak will bus passengers between Seattle and Everett, according to Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago. It also plans to bus Empire Builder passengers between Seattle and Spokane, because they cannot travel the line’s usual route through Everett.

Construction is expected to begin later this year on a $16 million, federally funded project to stabilize six or seven spots along the Seattle-Everett corridor that have been prone to mudslides.

BNSF will construct retaining walls, remove loose soil and install drainage pipes in soggy areas.

A BNSF presentation to Sound Transit showed standing water near suburban homes in Mukilteo, and pointed to years of residential development as a contributor to slides. Some transit-board members wondered if global warming is causing wetter seasons.

The Washington Department of Transportation warns that much more work needs to be done to fully prevent mudslides.