Bomb scare delays train at Eugene depot

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EUGENE, Ore. — About 300 travelers were delayed Sunday afternoon after police evacuated cars in Amtrak's Coast Starlight train to investigate a possible bomb threat.

No suspicious device was found, and the train departed about 4 p.m., more than three hours after its scheduled departure, Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said.

A "person of interest," a man from Canada, was detained and interviewed while police searched the train for possible explosives, McLaughlin said. The man cooperated with police and ultimately was allowed to leave, taking a taxi from the train station, McLaughlin said. No charges have been filed, she said.

The man apparently was on speaker phone on his cell phone when the word "bomb" was mentioned, prompting another passenger to alert the train's conductors, McLaughlin said.

"Someone overheard it," said McLaughlin of the word "bomb," and police decided it was "better to be safe than sorry."

The overheard phone conversation occurred at 12:11 p.m. before the train reached the Eugene station. Passengers waiting to board the train at Eugene were first advised to move to the other side of the train station and then to the end of a parking lot, said passenger Mike Gleason of Eugene.

The Metro Explosives Disposal Unit and federal authorities directed the investigation.

A K-9 unit also was brought to the scene, which included yellow crime scene tape draped across Willamette Street in front of the train station.

Nicki Meade of Springfield, who was on the northbound train after visiting family in Klamath Falls, said she spoke with other passengers who said they had to quickly leave the train without their shoes after police with rifles entered their cars and told passengers to raise their hands over their heads.

Meade said she and other passengers had to wait near the front of the train before being allowed to reboard to gather their belongings. She said officials would not allow her to reclaim her luggage, however, until sometime today.

Meade said she was impressed by the graciousness of Amtrak employees "who brought us blankets and hot coffee and hot bowls of rice, and juice for the children. They did everything they could for us."

Meade said the other passengers included "a frantic mom" who couldn't find her young son on the train. McLaughlin, however, said she had no information about a missing-child report in conjunction with the bomb scare.

Peter Cozzi, a road foreman of engineers for Amtrak, said train delays resulting from bomb threats are relatively rare -- "especially in this day and age when people recognize that such threats are going to be taken seriously and can get you in a lot of trouble."

The Coast Starlight train had originated in Los Angeles and was scheduled to leave Eugene at about 12:30 p.m. Other passengers whose trips north were delayed included Eugene city Councilor Betty Taylor, who said she was headed to Seattle to attend a National League of Cities conference.