Passengers flee Amtrak train after being stuck on track for 19 hours without power or bathrooms

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    (Photo provided by Jessica Vu)

    Myesha Johnson

    The Detroit News

    Oct. 11—About 450 passengers stuck on a train Friday bound for Chicago from Pontiac and other points in Michigan for up to 19 hours are being offered a refund or a credit toward an Amtrak trip after mechanical issues led to the massive delays, a spokesman for the railroad company said.

    Amtrak reached out to customers affected by the delays, spokesman Marc Magliari said in an email Monday. The trip was supposed to be a 5 1/2 hour ride. Instead, hours later, passengers were left without lights, heat or running toilets. The delay was sparked by a power problem, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.

    “We began contacting customers from both trains over the weekend to repeat our apologies and offer them refunds or transportation credit for a future trip, at their option,” Magliari wrote in the email.

    Wolverine Train 351 departed from Pontiac around 6 a.m. and stopped west of Ann Arbor due to a mechanical issue. Train 353, also departing from Pontiac, was then attached to Train 351, operating as a double train for the remainder of the trip to Chicago. Some passengers were so frustrated, they got off before it finally reached Chicago on Saturday, just after midnight, the Associated Press reported.

    The trains stopped again Jackson, Michigan, so a passenger with a medical emergency could be treated and was there for two hours without power, passenger Katie Kobiljak, 23. told the AP.

    “You could use the bathroom, but it was like using a port-a-potty and that’s not great,” said Kobiljak.

    Abrams said the passenger who called for medical treatment remained on the train as it continued to Chicago.

    But Kobiljak had enough and exited at Jackson.

    “So, I was on the train for nine hours and only made it like halfway through the state,” she said.

    A brake issue caused another stoppage, this time in northwestern Indiana, not far from Chicago.

    Then there was another delay due to battery problems, Abrams said.

    That’s when Michael Bambery, 48, decided to leave. He had boarded at 7:15 a.m. Friday in Ann Arbor. He arrived at his hotel about 16 hours later after paying $200 for a rideshare to finish the trip.

    “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.”

    Some passengers were able to open doors to the train and a couple dozen got off, Bambery said.

    Several passengers and their families took to Twitter to complain. They mentioned Amtrak and media outlets in an attempt to spur help with the train during the trip.

    The combined trains arrived in Chicago at 12:03 a.m. Saturday Central time, 13.5 hours behind Train 351’s schedule and 10 hours behind Train 353’s schedule. Both trains had over 200 passengers aboard Friday.

    Just over half a million people took the Wolverine line, which runs back and forth with stops throughout Michigan from Pontiac to Chicago in 2019 pre-pandemic, according to Amtrak. Ridership dropped nearly 70% last year, with a little over 150,000 riders.

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