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Traffic restored after hundreds of Amtrak passengers stranded by flooding; BNSF working to restore freight service along Mississippi River

August 29, 2018

Amtrak says its Empire Builder trains are again moving after about 400 passengers were stranded overnight by flooding in western Wisconsin.

The national passenger rail company announced service had resumed a little before 12:30 p.m., with the east-bound train running more than 18 hours behind schedule and the west-bound train more than 22 hours late.

The east-bound train stopped near Tomah around 3 p.m. Tuesday, while the west-bound train was held near Portage since Tuesday night, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Magliari said it was safest to shelter passengers on the trains as roads were also impassable.

Crews with Canadian Pacific Railroad worked through the night to repair damage to tracks near Mauston. CP spokesman Andy Cummings said the line was re-opened around 10 a.m. Wednesday, though trains were moving at reduced speeds.

Magliari said all passengers were provided complimentary meals. One train ran out of eggs at breakfast Wednesday, but Magliari said managers are on-site to help keep passengers comfortable.

“We appreciate the patience of our customers and the work by CP to restore the route used by these daily trains,” Magliari said.

He encouraged customers to give feedback on how Amtrak handled the situation by visiting amtrak.com or calling 800-USA-RAIL.

Freight rail scrambling to repair washouts

The Wisconsin & Southern Railroad is working to repair about 60 washouts affecting roughly 40 miles of its network across the southern part of the state.

Ken Lucht, assistant vice president for government relations, said the historic rainfall of Aug. 20-21 took out sections of the line between Prairie du Chien and Madison and on the subdivision between Sheboygan and Milwaukee.

Another storm that hit western Wisconsin Monday night washed out a section of track near Reedsburg.

Company crews and contractors are working around the clock and hope to restore service to Middleton by Friday, while other sections could take another week, Lucht said. He estimates the total cost will be about $2.5 million.

Lucht said the railroad, which primarily transports plastics, lumber, fertilizer and grain, is working with its customers to get their cargo onto trucks or route it on another railroad’s line.

“It’s extraordinary,” Lucht said. “The last thing we want is for them to shut down their business.”

Freight traffic was halted on BNSF Railway’s lines along the Mississippi River as crews worked to repair washed out tracks.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said there were no derailments or incidents and that trains were stopped Tuesday morning after inspectors found a “handful” of washouts between La Crosse and Stoddard.

McBeth said repairs will require a significant amount of materials but trains should be able to begin moving again Thursday.

Union Pacific was spared by the flooding that hit Dane County last week and western Wisconsin on Monday night, though crews had to clear about 25 trees that fell across its tracks in Columbia, Dodge and Marquette counties.

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