Crews Clean Up Mukilteo Slide After Derailment

MUKILTEO - Mark Valentine and his neighbors have resigned themselves to losing their property - one chunk at a time.

Yesterday, it was a big chunk.

A 200-foot section of bluff below Valentine's home collapsed onto Burlington Northern railroad tracks, derailing a freight train shortly after midnight. It was the second time this year Valentine lost a piece of his property.

"Had the train been going any faster, it would have ended up in the water," said Mukilteo Police Chief Jon Walters.

Mud and debris from the slide mired two locomotives and tore one from its wheels, said Howard Kallio, spokesman for Burlington Northern. Workers needed a crane to lift the locomotive and picks and shovels to find the wheels.

The tracks were buried in 10 to 20 feet of mud, Kallio said. The tracks were reopened early this morning.

Valentine and his wife knew something was wrong early yesterday morning when they woke up to the sound of heavy equipment.

"It is hard to tell, but we probably lost another 10 feet from our back yard," he said.

The biggest loss in the mudslide: A 60-foot madrona tree. There were no injuries.

In June, several feet of Valentine's yard slid 200 feet down the bluff overlooking Puget Sound and crashed onto the railroad tracks.

"I've been led to believe that this is inevitable . . . but it is not enough to make me move," said Valentine, whose home is below W. Horizon Drive, south of Mukilteo State Park.

As Burlington Northern workers cleared the tracks yesterday, Valentine talked with his neighbors about how long it would take for the edge of the cliff to reach their homes.

"At least 100 years, and then we can move the homes back," one resident said.

Valentine hired a geologist this summer, who told him to expect more slides over a long period of time. His children no longer play in the backyard.

A warning device to alert train conductors of obstacles on the tracks was installed at that spot after the June slide. But when the alarm went off, it was too late to warn the conductor, Kallio said.

Yesterday, Amtrak passengers headed for Seattle from Chicago stopped in Everett, where they were put on buses for the rest of the trip, Kallio said. Eastbound passengers waiting in Seattle and Edmonds were bused to Everett for the trip to Chicago, he said.

Burlington Northern engineers plan to examine the entire coastline between British Columbia and Vancouver, Wash., where tracks run along bluffs, he said.

"Slides are common. There's not a whole lot we can do," Kallio said. "All along the coast the bluffs are constantly sloughing. There's a lot of development up on the bluff; there's nowhere for the rainwater to go. It has to go down the hill."

-- Snohomish County bureau reporter Kate Shatzkin contributed to this report.