Oregon Tunnel Fire Cuts California Rail Link

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- A fire burning inside a key rail tunnel southeast of Eugene has disrupted Amtrak passenger service between the Northwest and California and is causing freight delays for West Coast shippers, officials say.

The Union Pacific-owned tunnel between Eugene and Chemult caught fire on Saturday, shutting down a key railroad corridor serving 18 to 20 trains a day.

``We don't know how long it will be until this is out,'' said Ed Immel, rail planner with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Amtrak halted all Coast Starlight trains north of Oakland, Calif., and south of Eugene late Saturday, affecting hundreds of travelers. The line serves an average of 1,200 passengers a day between Seattle and Los Angeles.

Amtrak is not offering alternate transportation at this time, said spokeswoman Sarah Swain.

Immel said Amtrak hopes to eventually bus passengers between Eugene and Klamath Falls, but Swain could not say when a backup plan might start. Amtrak's Cascades service between Seattle and Eugene has not been affected, Immel said.

The tunnel closure could delay by four days shipments of lumber, merchandise and other freight bound for Los Angeles from the Northwest, industry officials said.

The 3,164-foot-long, timber-lined tunnel, high on a mountain pass between Oakland, Ore. and Chemult, caught fire Saturday. Sparks from a locomotive's engine or brakes are the likely cause, Immel said.