Snow Booths Amtrak in Virginia with unbearable delays

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

Amtrak’s Crescent, which left New Orleans on Sunday en route to New York, was stuck north of Lynchburg, Virginia, Monday morning, returning to Lynchburg and remaining there until it finally went north again late Tuesday afternoon. Officials said felled trees had blocked the tracks.

Earlier Tuesday, passenger Sean Thornton said in a telephone interview that the railroad provided food, but the toilets were overcrowded and passengers were furious. The resident of Richmond, Virginia, was in a sleeping car with a private toilet, but he said bus passengers suffered “a miserable, miserable experience” with cars smelling of overcrowded toilets.

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

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods wrote in an email that the train would continue to New York, where it would arrive on Monday when the tracks were ready.

Thornton said train staff did not provide any information after the train parked north of Lynchburg for hours Monday without cell service until they finally backed up to town around midnight, with nothing about what came next. He said the train ran out of food on Monday and that passengers were not offered anything to eat until McDonald’s was brought to the train around midnight on Tuesday.

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

“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 will really lose patience.”

Malcolm Kenton of Washington, DC, said he and his aunt got off the train after returning to Lynchburg and took a trip to a hotel several miles away. He said he and his aunt are trying to rent a car or take a train on Thursday because they do not want to wait at the station for an unscheduled departure.

“We’ve pretty much given up 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 has ever encountered. He said it appears that felled trees could have been cleared more quickly.

“Amtrak does not seem to be doing well in dealing with these situations when they arise,” Kenton said.

A separate train en route from Roanoke, Virginia, to Washington, DC, was 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 6 p.m. 1 Tuesday. She said the railroad did not offer stranded passengers other transportation or hotels.

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

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

The company also said it operates “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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