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News / Business / Clark County Business

Amtrak said slides that blocked tracks earlier this year were ‘south of Kelso’ — in Felida

By Brennen Kauffman, The Daily News
Published: March 22, 2024, 7:40am

LONGVIEW — When a series of landslides interrupted Amtrak’s service in Southwest Washington between December and February, the company described the location of the slides as “south of Kelso.”

Very south, as it turns out — about 32 miles from Kelso.

Amtrak weather incident records confirm that all of the slides that caused major delays took place along a half-mile stretch of hills behind a neighborhood in Felida, north Vancouver city limits. The primary area for the slides is about a half-mile north of the road that crosses the train tracks into the Felida Moorage marina along Lake River.

Amtrak reports list a total of 10 slides or debris blockages in the Felida area that caused five separate travel moratoria on the train lines, including the almost complete pause of all Amtrak trains in Southwest Washington for hours or days Jan. 19-29.

The tracks through the area are used by BNSF Railway freight rail cars and two Amtrak passenger lines, the Cascades and the Coast Starlight.

“The cause and mitigation should come from BNSF as they own the tracks,” Rebecca Conner, an Amtrak information manager, told The Daily News.

An unsigned email from BNSF media personnel said: “BNSF is working to stabilize the slopes with the goal of avoiding future disruptions of passenger and freight service through the area.”

Timeline of mudslides

The first slide to disrupt rail service came on the morning of Dec. 5, when a rainstorm washed a cluster of debris onto the tracks around milepost 129.9. A second blockage was reported that afternoon, extending the Amtrak travel moratorium through the area until Dec. 8.

Amtrak’s records list a previously unreported minor event that took place Jan. 6, when a mudslide hit somewhere between Ridgefield and Felida. In that instance, Amtrak trains were able to move through the slide at slower speeds.

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Then late Jan. 19, a mudslide in the area forced a southbound Amtrak train to reverse all the way back to Kelso, pausing all Amtrak passenger trips between Seattle and Portland. A secondary blockage was reported by BNSF on Jan. 21, delaying the reopening of the tracks for another 48 hours.

But once those slides were cleaned up, the tracks did not stay open for very long. On the morning of Jan. 24, BNSF reported a mudslide around milepost 129.7, triggering yet another 48-hour pause.

The mucky mess was far from over. On Jan. 26, BNSF reported another mudslide in the same area. The Amtrak report says heavy rain and mud caused the mudslide that coated 75 feet of rail.

Over the next few hours, two more issues were found on the tracks a half-mile south, causing a full pause on rail trips until the evening of Jan. 28.

According to reports, ticket sales for the route were suspended until Jan. 30.

The last reported slide issue came Feb. 15, triggering another 48-hour pause on passenger trains.

Why Felida became an issue

Amtrak’s reports blame several of the landslides on heavy rainstorms that hit Southwest Washington during or before the slides. Rain history tracked by the website Weather Underground shows that there had been at least a half-inch of rain the day of the slides or the day before. But there could be more than one contributing factor.

Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Janet Matkin said in January that the slides might be linked to construction in the area.

An eight-house development, Lake River Estates, is under construction at the end of 50th Avenue, one of a handful of residential cul-de-sacs that back up onto the hill by the tracks.

According to Lake River Estates’ website, the homes have been under construction since July 2023.

Before the series of landslides, in November 2023, BNSF filed a civil lawsuit against Lake River Estates and Compass North Development in Clark County Superior Court. BNSF received a temporary restraining order against the developers, but the case remains ongoing with a hearing set for May.

The area might also carry some natural risk. Clark County’s website says that some of the property that backs onto the embankment are in “areas of potential instability,” and the slopes are a “severe erosion hazard.”