Landslide halts Amtrak train service between Seattle and Vancouver

A landslide in South Surrey, B.C., has shut down Amtrak train service between Vancouver and Seattle.

Amtrak said BNSF, which owns the railway, has suspended passenger railway traffic on the tracks until Friday, March 31. Amtrak said it is providing buses to service the route while it remains closed.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said freight trains, of which there are about 12 per day carrying goods, ranging from lumber and agricultural products to chemicals, resumed at 1 p.m. PT Wednesday. 

He said there had been one larger slide, alongside two smaller ones. 

"These are topical slides that come down when you get day after day after day of saturation," he said. 

"It goes with the territory, and we know that. We're prepared." 

The corridor is marked by 30-metre bluffs leading down to the oceanside railway. 

South Surrey resident Erik Seiz said he was walking along the water between Crescent Beach and Ocean Parks at around 9 a.m. PT when he noticed the landslides. 

"Looking up you could see chunks of the hillside had broken free and debris — mud and trees and whatnot — had covered the track in a few locations," said Seiz. 

The smaller slides had already been cleared, Seiz said, but a larger one that included a couple of larger trees was still being cleared while he was there.  

The slide has prompted some local residents to renew calls to move the train tracks to keep dangerous goods from potentially spilling into the water if there is a derailment.

In February, MP Dianne Watts put forward a motion to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to undertake a rail safety study of that part of the tracks. 

But Melonas said there are many benefits to rail transport. 

"It's the safest way to move large volumes of freight," he said, adding there are systems in place to alert the company when there are slides. 

Melonas said last year was the company's safest year on record. 

In the past three years, there have been five slides severe enough to shut down Amtrak traffic in that part of the corridor, he said.