Effects on Amtrak of Mt. St. Helens Eruption?

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by CHamilton, Sep 14, 2014.

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  1. Sep 14, 2014 #1

    CHamilton

    CHamilton

    CHamilton

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    I was asked how the 1980 eruption affected passenger train service. I wasn't living in the Northwest then, so I don't have any personal knowledge.

    On May 18, 1980, Amtrak appears to have been running the Coast Starlight, the Pioneer, and a PDX-SEA train called the Mount Rainier (timetables), as well as the three-day-a-week Empire Builder, which was still running via Yakima, so it would have been much closer to the mountain than the route used today. I would guess that the Builder and the Pioneer, which ran on the south bank of the Columbia River, would have been the most affected, being downwind of the mountain.

    [SIZE=13.63636302948px]There is a very old AU thread [/SIZE]here[SIZE=13.63636302948px] with some information, but can anyone expand on it?[/SIZE]
     
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  2. Sep 14, 2014 #2

    railiner

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    I believe there was some discussion in a more recent thread, but not sure which...

    I was working in Denver during the time of the eruption, and for many weeks after, whenever No. 6 came in, when the baggage car doors were rolled open, the floor, the bulk mail, and the baggage was covered in volcanic ash. We had to sweep it off the bags before delivering the bags to the passenger's at the baggage claim chute....

    Edit: I believe the thread that made some mention of it was pertaining to how the seals on the Superliner 31000 series coach baggage cars were worn out or gone, and the elements got in....or something to that effect....
     
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  3. Sep 14, 2014 #3

    Swadian Hardcore

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    Railiner, you used to work at Denver Amtrak?
     
  4. Sep 14, 2014 #4

    JayPea

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    Ah yes, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. I was a student at EWU in Cheney, WA, about 16 miles SW of Spokane at the time, You haven't experienced anything unless you've experienced total darkness at 1PM.....with not a breath of air stirring.....with confused birds stopping their chirping.....with the smell of sulfur in the air.....and then seeing the ash fall. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience...I HOPE! :p

    Anyway, concerning Amtrak, if I recall (and I might not recall. It was 34 years ago, after all, and I can't remember what happened yesterday, much less 34 years ago ;) ) the Empire Builder wasn't affected much if any. I do know that for the first day or two, nothing was moving. I know Spokane International Airport was shut down for a time and all air traffic was grounded. And all the roads were closed for a time. As the guest in Charlie's link pointed out, the ash did nasty things to auto and truck air filters. Part of the problem was no one knew how to remove ash from the roads. Washing it off didn't work; it just turned to concrete. But after about a week, roads were opened and traffic slowly began moving again. But I don't believe railroads including Amtrak were affected much if any by the ash. As Charlie points out, Yakima was on the EB route at the time, and it and Ellensburg, another EB stop, were in the path of the ash. But a town 60 miles southwest of Spokane, Ritzville, was hardest hit. It's on the route of today's Portland half of the EB. While Yakima and Ellensburg got a couple of inches of ash, Ritzville got over four. We in Cheney and Spokane got about 2-3 inches. To this day, in the rocky areas around Ritzville, there is still ash visible above ground. At any rate, I'm not sure rail traffic was affected much. If it was, it couldn't have been for very long. There was a branch line of the UP that ran behind my parents' house in the small town we lived in and the UP did nothing to clean the ash from the tracks. Every time a train passed there was a mini dust storm. And this continued until the ash worked its way into the ground. The UP diesels didn't seem to suffer any ill effects.

    Again, my memory may be faulty, but I vaguely seem to remember that traffic along the BN route used by the Starlight and the Mount Rainier was shut down for a time due to damage to bridges caused by the mud flows from the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers. I don't remember how long but seems like it was a while. The Pioneer route through the Columbia Gorge did get ash, too, but as the prevailing winds were blowing northeasterly, more toward Yakima and Spokane, I don't think there was as much ash through there. I could be wrong, though.

    At any rate, that's what I remember. As I say, this was 34 years ago so I could be totally wrong. :)
     
  5. Sep 14, 2014 #5

    Linda T

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    My first post appears to have been lost cause I wasn't logged in, so I'll try again. Tom, who is a sleeper attendant on the Cardinal was working the Coast Starlight the day Mount St. Helen's blew. As I recall he said that the CS was called back to SEA. Tom was working the LSL last year, but switched over to the Cardinal this year, having the seniority to do so.
     
  6. Sep 14, 2014 #6

    DesertRat

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    How does one call a train back? Turn it around?
     
  7. Sep 15, 2014 #7

    Linda T

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    I don't really know what they did with the CS, but I know a few months ago the Cardinal had a bridge on fire and they backed her all the way from STA to CVS. There was also a rock slide at Cotton Hill and they bussed 50 from HUN to CVS and 51 from CVS to HUN, I'm not sure what they did once they had to passengers to the proper train, they might have been able to turn at HUN since it's a large CSX facility, but I don't know.
     
  8. Sep 15, 2014 #8

    Ziv

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    I wasn't riding a train but I remember when the ash hit my hometown, Glasgow, in Eastern Montana. I was working as a night desk clerk and I saw a wall of fog slowly glide down the night dark highway towards my motel. I thought it was odd that we would get fog like that in a semi-arid place like Eastern Montana, so I walked outside and it was like walking into a warm slow moving dust storm. It took me a minute to put it together but then it struck me that I was a thousand miles from the mountain and I was having trouble seeing more than two or three hundred yards down the road. You could see headlights further but the business lights barely cut through the ash. The heavy ash didn't last long but it left a good amount on the cars. You didn't really notice it on the grass as much. I ended up sweeping the sidewalks to get it off and keep guests from clumping it into the rooms.

    Amazing. A thousand miles away.
     
  9. Sep 15, 2014 #9

    Ispolkom

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    One when I was on the eastbound Empire Builder a freight train derailed in Marias Pass. We were bused from Whitefish to Shelby, where we waited the westbound Empire Builder. When it arrived, its passengers transfered to the buses that had taken us over the pass, while the locomotives were detached from the front of the train, run around to the back and reattached. We boarded, and our Portland sleeper was now the first car on the train, right behind the locomotives. The seats were turned around on some of the coaches before passengers boarded. Others sat facing backward. There is a wye at Shelby, I think, but it wasn't used for some reason (time?).
     
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  10. Sep 15, 2014 #10

    hastybob

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    I rode the Pioneer from Salt Lake City to Seattle about a week after the eruption. When we got on the train in Salt Lake, we were given masks to use if we wanted to help with the ash in the air. The interior of the sleeper, ex UP car, was covered in a lite coat of ash. At Portland, the engines were changed. I was told that Amtrak was running the engines from Seattle to Portland only and had to change the air filters on each trip. The big impact to the railroad was where the railroad crossed a river. We crept across at 5 mph. The whole town (the name of which time has erased from my memory) was covered in ash. It was a weird beige color. The water in the river was the same color. There were trees floating down the river on the banks. At that time, the railroad was the only way to get between Portland and Seattle as the roads were still closed. Needless to say, they were packed! I seem to remember that Amtrak may have run an extra train during that time also, but don't quote me on that.
     
  11. May 18, 2015 #11

    CHamilton

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    And now it's 35 years later, and the eruption is in the news again. This doesn't have anything to do with trains, but it's an interesting story of recycling and economic development.

     

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