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Landslides take out Amtrak service in rainy Pacific Northwest

7 freight train cars are pushed off the tracks near Everett, Wash. NBCNews.com's Al Stirrett reports.

Sure it's scenic, but taking the train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., can be a trying time during the Pacific Northwest's extended rainy season. Already since Thanksgiving, more than 40 landslides have interrupted rail service and passenger service has been completely shut down since Dec. 17.

"It's one of the longest shutdowns in the Pacific Northwest that I've seen," Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF, the railway company that owns the line, told NBC News.

Melonas said it's also the fifth "most problematic" season for landslides in his 20 years in the area, with BNSF having to clean up after each one.

Over the summer, BNSF spent millions to shore up the 150 miles of terrain, enhancing slide sensors and culverts, contouring cliff walls, improving tracks, and stabilizing bridges and a marine wall. 

But "downpour after downpour" has still taken a toll in recent weeks, Melonas said. The worst damage from these thin "skin slides" was when a section of cliff slid into a moving cargo train, taking out seven railcars.

And while cargo rail can get up and running after short interruptions, it can take several days for passenger service to get the green light due to safety regulations.

The latest slide was Thursday and BNSF is still evaluating when passenger service will resume -- the earliest would be Monday, Melonas said, and that's assuming no new slides over the weekend.

Amtrak has long had a backup plan -- putting passengers on buses. And that's been the routine this season as well for thousands of travelers.

"It's Washington," Amtrak passenger Bruce Lipke told NBC affiliate KING5.com. "You have enough rain and anything slides."

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