Evening train riders recap challenges to avoid blocked freeway

Hundreds using the alternative

Hundreds await the late evening train in Santa Barbara to avoid a closed off section of Highway 101 (photo: Kathy Quackenbush)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - About 900 passengers boarded the Amtrak Surfliner Friday night as they avoided a closed off section of U.S. Highway 101 due to a mud flow .

The plan was put together in the last couple of days after the disasterous slide Tuesday morning filled a section of the freeway with tons of mud and debris from the nearby mountains along with destroyed homes.

Fredric Cogburn returned from a trip to his work in Camarillo and said it took "two and a half hours."    He went southbound earlier in the day with a commute of over an hour and 40 minutes.   It was a long day for Cogburn and many of the passengers who were on board. Dozens were standing.

One passenger said the train was moving at five miles an hour through the Montecito area. There, they could see the disaster for the first time near the tracks which included debris, cars, and items washed out of houses.

Chris Belanger was hopeful he would get a spot on the train because the volume of passengers ready to board the southbound Amtrak was filling the waiting area as if it were a holiday weekend.   Some were left behind when a previous train was full and they said it was "over ticketed."

Amtrak says it will add additional cars in the coming days to accommodate the passenger demand.

Many of those on board were planning to do the route again next week because of the prolonged highway closure with no estimated time of reopening.

CalTrans says it is the top priority in the state.

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