New Amtrak Cascades locomotives soon to enter service (WSDOT Photo)

The wet winter and spring have taken a toll on our railroads. Since the beginning of this year, nineteen (19) landslides have cancelled more than fifty (50) Amtrak Cascades trains. However, unlike the famous problem areas near Mukilteo that have plagued Cascades and Sounder alike, these mudslides are in a new trouble spot. Two-thirds of the total mudslides in the corridor this year have occurred in Clark County, just north of Vancouver in the Felida/Ridgefield area. Given BNSF’s mandatory 48-hour moratorium on passenger service following a mudslide, every slide can knock out as many as 20 trains. Compounding the problem, the Coast Starlight has been quietly out of service for more than two weeks now due to bridge damage in Northern California.

Mudslide mitigation in the Everett/Mukilteo area has been a great success, with millions spent on slope stabilization, homeowner education, and more. Cancellations have been sharply reduced in the northern corridor this year. But officials are scrambling to coordinate and plan a response to these new trouble spots. In an email to WSDOT, officials would only say that, “Representatives from WSDOT’s Rail, Freight and Ports Division are talking with Clark County representatives to determine how we can apply this same approach in this new area of concern.”

Fortunately, the legislature has provided ongoing funding for landslide mitigation to the tune of $33 million through 2030, a clip of roughly $2.50 million per year. Unfortunately, however, like everything else it is subject to politics and the need for biennial renewal of its funding. And though the annual outlay is generous, the current biennium only doled out $1m total, leaving agencies strapped for mitigation funds just as they finish up nearly $800m in 2009-era rail improvement projects in the corridor. So this problem may persist for a year or two.

Sometime this autumn, Cascades will add two new roundups to Portland, shuffle schedules to permit same-day business travel, and shift trains to the Point Defiance Bypass between Tacoma and Nisqually. Another wet winter and widespread cancellations could significantly hobble the new services just when they need to attract passengers most. Let’s hope the legislature will recognize the problem and approve mitigation funds in a timely and bipartisan way.

15 Replies to “Amtrak Cascades Has a New Mudslide Hotspot”

    1. Exactly, Glenn. It is maddening that a few property owners benefit from destabilizing a hillside, and taxpayers pay for the mitigation :~(

      1. I would say that the builders benefited. The property owners now have their life savings invested in a property that cannot be insured for landslides and could eventually slide down the hill. They will likely need to spend thousands to mitigate the side areas on their properties.

      2. Good point, Chris I.

        On a different note, welcome back, Coast Starlight!

    2. And wildfire response requires more resources because people have built houses deep in the forests. And the same thing in Louisiana’s bayous that require more hurricane response and cause erosion of the wetlands that protect the cities. All for a beautiful view or splendid isolation.

    3. building lots of houses and cutting down the trees that hold the bank together causes stability issues.

      Ya think? This is exactly what happened up north off Mukilto Speedway when new multi-million dollar homes were built at the top of a bank that had been stable for centuries until trees were cut and land regraded to produce nice level lawns with a view.

  1. I agree Zach. As somebody who finds himself needing the Portland-Olympia-Seattle Amtrak Cascades link at least twice a year now, this landslide problem needs a fix. Soon.

    Otherwise after millions of taxdollars spent, many will choose the slightly higher price of hurrying up to go through TSA and then waiting for a Portland-Seattle flight. I’m sure our state capitol of Olympia-Tumwater also deserves better.

    Finally maybe off-topic but the Sound Transit Board Maintenance & Ops Committee on 1 June at 1 PM will discuss the slide mitigation on Sounder North. I have it in my calendar – no promises if I’ll be in the flesh.

  2. Wah. That photo shows overhead catenary. I wish the cascades route was electrified!!

      1. No I think its at Siemens Factory test tract near Sacramento, see the house in the background
        and green grass. Overhead is for test new LRV’s.

  3. Yet I see the coast starlight at KSS every afternoon? Cant miss that delicious Amtrak GE locomotive beast idling!

    1. I think what you are seeing at KSS in the afternoon is the Empire Builder, Weasel.

      If it’s at the depot around 4PM, it’s waiting to board passengers and have baggage loaded for the 4:40PM departure.

  4. By the way, as of today, May 10th, the Coast Starlight is back in operation.

  5. Clark County? Sudden environmental issue where none existed before? Don Benton anyone?

  6. National political news features a lot of slide activity right now. Even worse than either Amtrak or a certain underground train at Hanford. Or as last night’s plate tectonics in Kitsap County.

    We the People need to be getting our work gear together to dig out more than railroad tracks with local resources. Especially shovels. We’ll probably get food at the worksites, but have to wait awhile for first paycheck.

    Good news is we’ll all have first-hired seniority on the successor to the national employment programs pioneered in the last Depression. The Government is our machinery for exactly this set of conditions.

    Based on history, not worried about our getting at it. The lock is rusted off the machine-room door, which is also falling off its hinges.


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