Holiday travelers take delays caused by crowds, weather in stride

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 

The five Rylanders were getting excited at 4 p.m. Sunday, waiting for the 5:07 Empire Builder to Whitefish, Mont., at Vancouver's Amtrak station.

"We go to Big Mountain and we ski and we ice skate and we eat," said Suzy, the mom in the Vancouver family.

"Whitefish is a real Christmassy town," said Kurt, the dad.

The girls — Truly, 12, Piper, 10, and Reese, 7 — were ready, too, with loaded bags. The family had booked two sleeper compartments.

"We've gone for the last 12 years as a family," said Suzy, who grew up in Ridgefield.

"It's our family thing, we like to ski," Suzy said. She said taking Amtrak is fun but, "it's not always reliable."

In fact, the Amtrak Coast Starlight train No. 14, which departed from Los Angeles on Saturday headed for Seattle, had a mechanical problem and stopped just north of Chemult, Ore., about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said about 358 passengers were on board and the train started again at 3:30 "at a reduced speed."

The 30 or so people in the Vancouver Amtrak station at mid-afternoon Sunday were hoping for better luck.

There were trouble spots around the Northwest.

Problems on passes

Sunday afternoon, the Washington State Department of Transportation put out this message for north-central Washington:

"Saying they haven't seen conditions like this in 30 years, maintenance crews from the Washington State Department of Transportation have closed U.S. 2 from Stevens Pass to the west end of Leavenworth until it is safe for drivers."

"This series of storms has been remarkable," said Dan Sarles, WSDOT regional administrator for the North Central Region. "The snow is unusually heavy and wet, snapping and uprooting trees at a rate we haven't seen in decades."

In Oregon, the state police reported hazardous winter driving conditions on many mountain passes.

A news release said, "OSP troopers have responded to more than 30 crashes and vehicles sliding off the road along Highway 97 between Chemult and Warm Springs as well as several other incidents on Highway 20W west from Bend into the Santiam Pass area."

Oregon troopers were also investigating a two-vehicle fatal traffic crash Sunday night on Highway 35, about two miles north of the junction with Highway 26 at Government Camp. One person was killed in the crash; the victim's name was not released.

PDX

At Portland International Airport, all flights were coming and going at 3 p.m. Sunday, save three cancelled San Francisco flights. All seemed calm, all seemed bright with banners and storefront lights and big clocks and loved ones hugging.

"No crazy weather; good day for travel," said George Ackerman, an airport security officer. "Things are going smoothly."

Alex Robert, 24, a Fort Vancouver High School graduate, was wearing a Santa hat, as was his girlfriend, Breanna Lane, 21, as they walked through the terminal. They both work as computer animators in Orlando, Fla.

"We're going to see my family," Alex said of the Walnut Grove clan.

Was traveling hectic?

"Not bad. I've had worse," Alex said.

"L.A. is a nightmare," Breanna said. "The terminal is terrible."

Kaitlin Torney, 26, sipping soup at a terminal restaurant, might have spoken for many when she said she visits two spots for Christmas.

"My parents are divorced. Dad lives in San Francisco and Mom lives in Portland." She was waiting for the 4:25 Southwest Airlines flight to Oakland, Calif. She wore a Santa hat and her belongings included a pillow. "I love my pillow. I always travel with my pillow," she said.

Sunday was not a big day for passengers at the airport. The biggest days are Dec. 21, 26 and 27, airport officials said.

Nearly 700,000 passengers are expected to travel through PDX in the two weeks ending Jan. 2, said Steve Johnson of the Port of Portland.

Johnson said PDX is the 29th-largest passenger airport and the 26th-largest cargo airport in the United States.