Snow blocks Amtrak in Virginia, with excruciating delays


Some passengers suffered one of the worst trips in their history on Tuesday as winter conditions continued to wreak havoc not only on road trips but also on Amtrak trains, where stranded passengers said they were dealing with toilets that are overflowing and a lack of food.

Amtrak’s Crescent, which left New Orleans on Sunday for New York, got stuck north of Lynchburg, Va. On Monday morning, returned to Lynchburg and stayed there on Tuesday. Authorities said felled trees were blocking the tracks.

On Tuesday afternoon, passenger Sean Thornton said in a telephone interview that while the railroad was providing food, the toilets were overflowing and passengers were furious. While the Richmond, Va. Resident was in a sleeper car with a private toilet, he said bus passengers were having a “miserable and miserable experience” with cars reeking of overflowing toilets.

“I understand there are weather conditions,” said Thornton, who is traveling from Atlanta to Charlottesville, Virginia. “The real failure here has been communication and management involvement.”

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods wrote in an email that the train is supposed to travel to New York, where it was due to arrive on Monday, once the tracks are clear.

Thornton said the train crew did not provide any information after the train parked north of Lynchburg for hours on Monday without cell service, until it finally returned to town around midnight, without say nothing about what was to follow. He said the train ran out of food on Monday and passengers offered nothing to eat until McDonald’s was brought onto the train around mid-morning Tuesday.

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

“If they can actually move this train, so much the better,” 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, DC, said he and his aunt got away from the train after it returned to Lynchburg and hitchhiked to a hotel for several miles. He said he and his aunt were trying to rent a car or take a train on Thursday because they didn’t want to wait at the station for an unscheduled departure.

“We’ve pretty much given up on taking the same train,” Kenton said in a telephone interview Tuesday from his hotel. A longtime Amtrak pilot, he said he always preferred the train to driving or flying, but said the current delay was “one of the worst” he has ever encountered. He said it looks like the felled trees could have been felled faster.

“Amtrak doesn’t seem to handle these situations well when they arise,” Kenton said.

A separate train connecting Roanoke, Virginia, to Washington, DC, remained stuck on the same tracks, said Tamera Ferguson of Lynchburg. She said her son spent 14 hours on the train before returning to Lynchburg after 1 a.m. on Tuesday. She said the railroad did not provide stranded passengers with other means of transportation or hotels.

The Daily Progress of Charlottesville reported that a train southbound from Charlottesville, Va. To Lynchburg was also delayed due to downed trees, while Amtrak reported that its Silver Star train bound for New York , who was leaving Miami, was arrested in Richmond on Tuesday morning because of downed trees.

A number of New York-New Orleans croissants departing Tuesday and beyond have been canceled. Amtrak also on Tuesday canceled the two-way Piedmont, which connects Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as the northbound Palmetto from Savannah, Ga., To New York, and the northbound Auto Train, which operates from Sanford, Florida to Lorton, Virginia.

The company also said it operates a “modified” service on other routes in the northeast corridor between Washington and Boston and on other trains south of Washington.

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