A whole host of mechanical, medical, and staffing problems turned an average five-and-a-half hour train ride from Pontiac, Michigan to Chicago into a 19-hour ordeal on Friday, leaving passengers with no food, heat, lights, or working toilets for nearly a day.
Power failures, a medical emergency, crew shift changes and mechanical failures lead to multiple stops along the roughly 285-mile route. The train first stopped due to losing power somewhere between Chelsea and Jackson, Michigan, about 19 miles west of Ann Arbor, MLive reports. Amtrak sent another engine to retrieve the train, but then a medical emergency stopped the train. Once stopped, the train had a hard time getting started again. Many of the passengers disembarked in Jackson, Michigan, in disgust after spending hours on the train only to make it halfway across the state. Many decided to contact family or pay hundreds for Ubers to take them on to their destination rather than face more hours on the train.
And they were the lucky ones. More failures in Indiana left passengers without heat or lights on a cold fall night. Things only got worse outside of Gary:
Bambery said the “real problem” started when the train stopped abruptly just east of Chicago near Gary, Indiana. Passengers were told the crew needed to be swapped out, but the train didn’t seem to stop at an actual station.
“No heat, no electricity and at this point it’s dark, so no lights,” he said. “They were cracking glowsticks to give us light. The toilets are overflowing because you cannot flush these toilets without electricity, so it smells awful. It’s really cold and there’s just a skeleton crew on board.”
Abrams said the trains stopped because of a brake issue, which was fixed, but got delayed again due to battery problems. Passengers said they didn’t get updates from Amtrak on what was going on during this delay.
The train parked in the middle of live tracks leaving people stranded in the dark with unsanitary conditions, multiple passengers said. But a group of people still opened the doors to jump out of the car.
“We’re feeling like we can’t stay on this train anymore. We’re getting no information from Amtrak. Again, we’re cold, hungry, people need to use the bathroom. It smells awful. And a percentage of people are having acute anxiety symptoms and screaming,” he said.
Passengers forced open the doors and walked across live train tracks and a field to stand on the side of the road and wait for ride shares to take them the last 30 miles to Chicago.
Both the dead train and the one hauling it arrived in Chicago after midnight, after leaving Pontiac at 6 a.m Friday, Amtrak told MLive. Many vowed never to take the Amtrak again. And after a trip like this, who could blame them.