Amtrak train freed after being stuck almost 13 hours in 25-foot ND snowbank

This photo from Miranda Fenner, Minot, shows the eastbound Amtrak passenger train, left, where it was lodged in a huge snowbank west of Rugby, Wednesday morning. Efforts to remove the train from the snowbank continued on Wednesday. Submitted photo
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RUGBY, N.D. --  On the fourth attempt, an Amtrak train carrying 111 passengers that was stuck almost 13 hours in a 25-foot northern North Dakota snowbank was on its way to other eastward stops on Wednesday.

Three attempts failed earlier in the day after heavy snow and two days of fierce winds plugged the tracks with a  200-foot long snowbank.

The Empire Builder, as the train is called,  got stuck five miles west of Rugby in north-central North Dakota at about 7 a.m. and was finally dug out about 6:45 p.m., according to Amy McBeth, Minneapolis, BNSF public relations director for this region.

BNSF inspected the train for any damages and the train was moving again at about 7:45 p.m.

The closure of the one-lane track also held up a westbound Amtrak train also called the Empire Builder, with 96 passengers, at Leeds, about 35 miles to the east. That train left Leeds after a delay of about 14 hours and headed west.


BNSF crews, responsible for clearing the track, first used snowplows, then skid-steers and then freight train engines trying to pull out the train from behind.

None of those methods freed the train, however..

Finally, McBeth said about 30 BNSF crew members that were working on the effort had to resort to digging out the train by hand to remove the snow from underneath and between the cars..

Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak in Chicago, said the on-board crew worked hard to keep passengers comfortable on both trains.

Rugby is about 60 miles east of Minot.
Miranda Fenner, a Minot State University music student aboard the train, said two freight train engines were brought in to try to pull out the train from behind. Then she said two more locomotives  were brought in to try to move the train.

At about 2 p.m., Fenner said the four engines still weren't successful.

"They brought in more bulldozers and equipment to help dig us out to hopefully push and pull our way out. That's the latest," she said in a text to her mother, Ellen Fenner of Minot in the mid-afternoon..

Fenner said the train had power and the cafe and lounge were open so food was available to them, but many passengers were spending the time sleeping.


Fenner said the train was seven hours late anyway because of the weather. Initially they were to leave Minot about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, but they finally left at 6 a.m.

An hour later, she said the train got stuck in the huge snowbank. She said the train's conductor told them the size of the snowbank was 25 feet.
"Train attendants used the term 'snowed in' instead of 'stuck,'" said Fenner.

"Conditions aboard the train are fine, with all hotel services operational. We have reached out to emergency responders only as a precaution," said Magliari at midday Wednesday.

Later in the day, Kimberly Wood of Amtrak media relations added, "Credit is due to our on-board employees in making the customers comfortable on both trains, to the hard work of BNSF forces in reopening the railroad, and most importantly, to our passengers for their patience."

Fenner was on a trip to Minneapolis with four other Minot State University music students and an instructor. The MSU group was on its way to the American Choral Directors Association national conference in Minneapolis.

Reporter Eloise Ogden of the Minot Daily News contributed to this report


    An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. 701-451-5665
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