Some 294 passengers bound for Salt Lake City were stranded overnight in an Amtrak train that derailed in a rugged Colorado canyon during a snowstorm.
Those who wanted to continue their trip were expected to arrive in Salt Lake City by bus Monday afternoon.Utah residents also felt the effects of the holiday snowstorm that struck the West. The most serious complaints reported to authorities were that the snowplows operating through the night blocked driveways and buried cars parked on the street. Officials at the Salt Lake International Airport reported no serious storm-related problems or delays.
In the Amtrak incident, there were no injuries reported among the passengers. They had been scheduled to reach Salt Lake City shortly before midnight on Christmas Day on their way to Los Angeles from Chicago.
"While technically it was a derailment, it was not a serious accident. There was very little damage and no injuries," said John Jacobsen, Amtrak director of public affairs.
The train derailed at 9:11 p.m. Sunday and it took until 3:30 a.m. Monday for another train to reach the site of the accident. The rescue train, made up of work cars and cabooses, made at least three trips to the Amtrak train to bring all of the passengers to Glenwood Springs.
The canyon, located about 12 miles east of Glenwood Springs, is inaccessible by road. The 15 cars and two locomotives landed upright next to the tracks on the south side of the canyon, which rises above the Colorado river about 150 miles west of Denver, Jacobsen said.
During their ordeal, passengers had electricity, heat and plenty of food, according to Jacobsen.
"It's just a profound inconvience to everybody," he said. "I'm sure there are people frustrated at being so late."
The train had already been delayed seven hours beyond its scheduled arrival time in Salt Lake City of 11:37 p.m. Sunday when it was rerouted to avoid a freight train derailment outside of Galesburg, Ill.
Passengers were being given the option of staying overnight in Denver at the railroad's expense or continuing on to Salt Lake City by bus. Those continuing on to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City will likely be given airline tickets, he said.
Most passengers, Jacobsen said, chose to board one of the seven buses chartered by Amtrak. They are expected to arrive Monday afternoon, although none of the buses had left Glenwood Springs by 8 a.m.
Anyone needing information on when the train's passengers will finally reach Salt Lake City should call either the local Amtrak station or the national toll-free information number, 1-800-USA-RAIL, Jacobsen said.
A passenger list to determine how many Utahns were aboard the train was not immediately available Monday. The train was referred to as the California Zephyer from Chicago to Salt Lake City and the Desert Wind from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.
The cause of the derailment was not known Monday. The accident will be investigated by Denver Rio Grande Western Railroad, on whose tracks it occurred.
Salt Lake area authorities reported no serious accidents in the snowstorm but noted the hazardous driving conditions created by the storm lead to numerous "fender-benders" throughout the Wasatch Front.
Snowplow operators for both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County worked through Christmas Day to keep roads open during the steady snowfall.
"It keeps on snowing _ that's the problem," said Scott Mikkelsen, a dispatcher for the Salt Lake City public works department.
He and some 100 other city employees manned two 12-hour shifts on Sunday to keep 46 snowplows on the roads. Despite their efforts, Mikkelsen said, the city has received complaints about where the snowplows pushed snow.
Hearing those complaints after working a holiday shift is very disheartening, Mikkelsen said. He reported for work at 11:30 p.m. Sunday after spending the day with his family and was still on the job Monday morning.
In Salt Lake County, snowplow operators are just as frustrated with the continuing snowfall and the complaints from residents whose driveways and vehicles are blocked by snow.
"We keep hoping we'll get a little break and the snow will stop," said Rich Johnson, a Salt Lake County dispatcher. "It's a question of where you're going to put the snow."