By Railfan & Railroad Staff
WASHINGTON — The Rail Passengers Association has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to look into a 19-hour service disruption aboard Amtrak’s westbound Wolverine between Pontiac, Michigan, and Chicago on October 7, a trip that has been called a “disaster” by passengers.
According to media reports, the train was beset with delays due to mechanical issues and a medical emergency. Because of the mechanical problems, the train was connected with another Chicago-bound Amtrak train but the passengers aboard the Wolverine Train 351 section did not have electricity, heat or working toilets. After a while, the bathrooms began to overflow on board, filling the train with a pungent stink. Passengers said Amtrak employees on board were unable to provide consistent updates and information about what was going on.
After yet another delay near Gary, Indiana, some passengers decided to take matters into their own hands, opened the doors themselves, got off the train and made their way across three tracks of a busy Class I line to try and catch ride-share cars on a nearby highway. In order to get to the highway, however, they had to climb across a ditch and through brush. In a video of the incident provided to RPA, some passengers can be heard discussing how best to cross the busy highway, waiting for a gap in the traffic to jump across jersey barriers in the middle of the roadway.
“I had a cordial, productive, but candid meeting with Amtrak leadership this week to share our concerns, and to pose questions about Amtrak’s response to these incidents,” RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews said. “Their response was expansive, informative, and sincere. They clearly recognize the seriousness of what occurred. But with so many open questions remaining about how the incident was handled, how alternate arrangements were considered, and how poorly passengers understood what was happening, we feel an obligation in representing our members and the traveling public to elevate our request for a formal debriefing and review whose results, with appropriate redaction of personally identifiable information, can be shared with the public.”
Federal regulations require that incidents like this be reviewed within 60 days so the railroad can learn about what happened. The purpose is not to assign blame but understand how the railroad can improve passenger safety during future incidents. The Rail Passenger Association is calling for a modified review, one where RPA staff can serve as impartial observers and where the final results of the review are shared publicly.