The same snowstorm that halted highway traffic across Virginia earlier this week also caused lengthy delays on Amtrak. Several Amtrak trains were stopped in Virginia due to track conditions. Operational problems were compounded by poor customer service and communication aboard trains and with call centers. The situation was dire enough to garner criticism from Virginia’s delegation to the U.S. Senate.
From regional services to New York-bound, long-distance trains traveling from as far as New Orleans or Miami were stuck on the rails in Virginia. Downed trees were Amtrak’s most cited reason for the delays. Passengers reported that trains ran out of food and onboard toilets began to overflow. One customer abandoned the train and hitchhiked to a nearby hotel. Traincrew yelled at passengers via the PA system to stop complaining to them and to call Amtrak directly. Another passenger called customer service over 50 times without getting through.
The incidents provoked both U.S. Senators from Virginia to send an open letter to Amtrak. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine didn’t hesitate to criticize the government-owned service. Here’s an excerpt:
“It is unacceptable that Amtrak did not better communicate with passengers during an emergency situation such as this. Inclement weather is uncontrollable. However, Amtrak must have appropriate systems and practices in place to ensure that passengers and crew caught in such weather are not only safe, but also understand the situation and their options. We have long been supporters of Amtrak; but, simply put, Amtrak must do better.”
Amtrak responded and agreed with the senators’ criticism that the railroad failed to communicate with its customers properly. Communicating with passengers is a start, but maybe Amtrak should aspire to stably feed and hydrate its customers during emergencies. While the winter storm was out of anyone’s control, Amtrak could have avoided the chaos onboard trains.