Snow Stalls Amtrak in Virginia, With Excruciating Delays

"Nobody has eaten for about 20 hours and the toilets in coach are completely backed up. The snack bar sold out of food yesterday," one passenger said

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AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Some passengers were enduring one of the worst trips ever Tuesday as winter weather continued to wreak havoc not only with road travel but also Amtrak trains, where stranded passengers said they were dealing with overflowing toilets and a lack of food.

Amtrak's Crescent, which left New Orleans on Sunday on its way to New York, got stuck north of Lynchburg, Virginia, on Monday morning, returned to Lynchburg and remained there until finally heading northbound again late Tuesday afternoon. Officials said downed trees had been blocking the tracks.

Earlier Tuesday, passenger Sean Thornton said in a phone interview that the railroad was providing food, but toilets were overflowing and passengers were furious. The Richmond, Virginia, resident was in a sleeping car with a private toilet, but he said coach passengers were suffering “a wretched, wretched experience” with cars reeking of overflowing toilets.

“I get it that there are weather conditions," said Thornton, who was traveling from Atlanta to Charlottesville, Virginia. “The real failure here was communication and management involvement.”

Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods wrote in an email that the train would go on to New York, where it was supposed to arrive on Monday, once the tracks were clear.

Thornton said that the train crew offered no information after the train parked north of Lynchburg for hours Monday without cell service, until finally backing up to the city around midnight, with no word on what came next. He said the train ran out of food Monday and that passengers weren't offered anything to eat until McDonald's was brought to the train around midmorning Tuesday.

Thornton also said a member of the train crew yelled at passengers over the public address system on Monday to stop complaining to them, instead telling them to call Amtrak's 1-800 number.


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“If they can actually move this train, great,” Thornton said after nearly 40 hours. “But if they waste another day trying to figure it out, people are really going to lose patience.”

Malcolm Kenton of Washington, D.C., said he and his aunt walked away from the train after it returned to Lynchburg and hitched a ride to a hotel several miles. He said he and his aunt are trying to rent a car or catch a train on Thursday because they don't want to wait at the station for an unscheduled departure.

“We've pretty much given up on getting back on the same train,” Kenton said in a Tuesday phone interview from his hotel. A longtime Amtrak rider, he said he still prefers the train to driving or flying, but said the current delay is “among the worst” he's ever encountered. He said it seems like downed trees could have been cleared more quickly.

“Amtrak does not seem to do well in handling these situation when they arise,” Kenton said.

A separate train bound from Roanoke, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., got stuck on the same tracks, said Tamera Ferguson of Lynchburg. She said her son spent 14 hours on the train before it returned to Lynchburg after 1 a.m. Tuesday. She said the railroad didn't offer stranded passengers other transportation or hotels.

The Daily Progress of Charlottesvillereported a train southbound from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Lynchburg had also been delayed due to downed trees, while Amtrak reported that its New York-bound Silver Star train, which left from Miami, remained stopped at Richmond Tuesday morning because of downed trees.

A number of New York-New Orleans Crescents departing on Tuesday and later days were canceled. Amtrak on Tuesday also canceled both directions of the Piedmont, which runs between Raleigh, and Charlotte in North Carolina, as well the northbound Palmetto from Savannah, Georgia, to New York, and the northbound Auto Train, which operates from Sanford, Florida, to Lorton, Virginia.

The company also said it’s operating “modified” service on some other routes on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston and on other trains south of Washington.

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