Above: File photo of an Amtrak passenger train

Klamath Falls resident Paula Cowley recalls her experience aboard an Amtrak train this past Sunday as it sat parked for nearly 5 hours while a male passenger threatened to harm himself and other passengers on the train.

Paula Cowley shared her experience aboard Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight 14 last Sunday with Klamath Alerts today. Paula said she boarded the train in Sacramento on Sunday with her two 11 year old granddaughters. “I was headed to Salem to drop my grandkids off with my daughter”.

The train passed through Klamath Falls around 8:14am Sunday and then continued to Chemult without incident. As the train made its way through the area of Odell Lake it suddenly stopped. Paula said “the train stopped near the lake and she and the other passengers were not provided any information for more than an hour. “There was no cell phone service at all where the train stopped”.

According to Paula, “the conductor finally told her and the other passengers in her car that the train stopped so they could wait for a freight train.”

Paula’s 33 year old daughter who was in Salem and planning to meet the train later was tracking the progress of the train online and noticed it had been stopped for some time. Paula said her daughter called Amtrak customer service and was told there had been a “bridge fire” ahead of them and that the bridge would need to be inspected before the train could continue.

The hours continued to pass by as the train remained stopped. The passengers had access to restrooms and water and were comfortable she said. Instructions were put out that all minors younger than 16 should be escorted by an adult if they move around the train cars. They were later told to take their seats and not wander around the train.

After sitting for hours with little to no information, Paula said she suddenly noticed a swat team on board the train. She said she saw at least 10 heavily armed police officers walk through her car after they had the suspect in custody. Paula said she did not see or observe the man who made the threats because he was on the floor above her and also the car in front of them during the incident.

After the incident was over, Paula said that passengers were allowed off the train for a brief “smoke break” before they once again boarded and continued toward Eugene. Paula said that no additional information was provided to her or the other passengers and nobody from the crew checked on anyone all the way to Salem. “One of the passengers was a female around 89 years old. She was never checked on, not once” states Paula.

Paula said she believes Amtrak should increase security and screening to increase passenger safety. She told Klamath Alerts she will be taking her trips in a car from now on because she does not feel safe aboard trains.

Is Security Behind The Times For Amtrak?

The incident Sunday highlights a security concern aboard Amtrak trains. There is virtually no screening of passengers nor identity verification before passengers board. Amtrak has plans to reduce its own police force by 20 percent and has not been replacing vacant officer positions according to online reports from other news media.

Amtrak police do random screening operations at times. However, many stations board unscreened passengers on a regular basis. There is nothing stopping would be criminals from bringing weapons or even explosives onboard.

Additional Charges For Suspect

The suspect (Mason Lira) from the incident Sunday has had additional charges added to his initial arrest. The graphic below shows updated charges. As of posting time, there was still no booking photo available from the jail.

Screen Shot 2019-08-06 at 3.50.53 PM