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News / Business / Clark County Business

Fatal train derailment snarls traffic, strands travelers

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 18, 2017, 5:53pm

While investigators work to understand a deadly passenger train derailment near DuPont on Monday morning, travelers and businesses even 100 miles away in Vancouver face a logistical dilemma.

The Washington Department of Transportation announced Monday that southbound lanes of Interstate 5 will be closed at least through Tuesday morning, blocking a route used by 60,000 drivers every day. Detours will send drivers at least 20 extra miles to avoid the snarl.

“This is a huge pinch point,” the agency tweeted after the derailment. “Expect all (alternative) routes to have heavy traffic.”

Allyse Ripley, a Vancouver resident who spent the weekend in Gig Harbor, hoped to be back in the city to work her noon shift at the local movie theater. Then news broke of the derailment before she left. After calling in to work, she drove to Highway 101 then south to Olympia.

Ripley, 20, said she hasn’t thought too much about her own inconvenience. She said, “I’m just worried about the people on the train.”

Logistics companies, meanwhile, have to consider their business and customers, too.

Mitchell Bros. Truck Line, based in Vancouver, put about 70 truckers in a holding pattern on Monday in order to avoid the sprawling traffic. Some arrived north of DuPont before the crash and were told to sit tight.

“It’s a really bad situation with regards to viable detours — because there are none,” said Operations Manager Thilo Kluth. He said that’s especially problematic because 80 percent of their business comes from freight at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle.

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“This sets us back two days at least, because whatever freight we had preplanned is out the window. We typically plan four to five days in advance and those are out the window right now,” he said.

Drivers’ work hours are also a factor. Dani Lucas, with Vancouver Warehouse & Distribution Co., said the company sent four truckers on detours around the wreckage Monday, but they are careful to make sure drivers don’t end up logging long hours.

“We’re giving them options for tomorrow as to whether they want to stay local or brave the traffic,” she said.

Lucas and Kluth both pointed out that the logistics industry is volatile for these reasons. Likewise, a mudslide in February closed northbound I-5 for two days.

“It’s like anything, you deal with it the best you can,” said Kluth.

Companies that handle cargo by rail say they aren’t as affected. The derailment at DuPont occurred on a new bypass track designated for passenger trains. Freight trains continue to use a route along Puget Sound’s shoreline.

Even if passenger trains are temporarily rerouted onto freight lines, though, it won’t be too problematic, said Brad Bissell, of Portland-based logistics company Northwest Container.

“Amtrak was running on those lines as recently as last night,” he said.

Columbian staff writer