Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 9, 2013

Amtrak passenger stuck in Va. describes ordeal

RICHMOND, Va. — Passengers who were stuck overnight on a disabled Amtrak train for 14 hours had to put up with balky toilets, intermittent air conditioning and train personnel who were absent during most of the ordeal, a traveler said Monday.

Meshelle Reynolds and her 12-year-old daughter Rayshell arrived in Raleigh 19 hours after they left Washington, D.C., to attend a friend’s 50th birthday party.

“I’m home. I smell like a toilet, but otherwise I’m OK,” she said in a telephone interview as she drove away from the train station.

Reynolds was among more than 250 passengers who were stranded on Amtrak’s Train 91 from New York City to Miami. The unexpected stop about 5:30 p.m. Sunday was the result of an axle problem that disabled the Silver Service train 2 miles north of Richmond. It didn’t resume its trip south until shortly after 7 a.m. Monday.

Reynolds, 49, said Amtrak personnel explained the problem and apologized. But except for one visit to her car at 1 a.m. they never returned through most of the night while she and her fellow passengers wondered why it was taking so long to get the train moving again.

“My biggest complaint was after 10 o’clock they vanished. They vanished while we were in the middle of nowhere,” she said.

Another passenger said other travelers were generally understanding of the extended delay, and only a couple publicly expressed their displeasure with the situation.

Bill Hamrick, of Sumter, S.C., was traveling with his wife and other family members to North Carolina. He said he had no complaints with how Amtrak handled the breakdown and he did not want for food or bathroom facilities.

“The unexpected happened and they did the best they could under the circumstances,” he said of Amtrak personnel.

But Reynolds, an administrative assistant at the North Carolina Partnership for Children, said police from suburban Richmond checked in with passengers during the night, but refused to let anyone leave the train. She said police had to travel by foot to reach the train.

A spokeswoman for the Henrico Police Department said officers were sent to the train to check on passengers after upset travelers reached out to local media to complain.

In her car, Reynolds said, most of the passengers were children, and many slept through the night. She said the lack of working toilets when the power went off was the worst aspect of their ordeal.

“It was horrible,” she said. “Unfortunately we had the last seat, right next to the bathroom.”

But Rail workers provided water and snack packs to passengers late Sunday and early Monday, she said.

Reynolds said she is seeking a refund from Amtrak, including a meal she paid for but wouldn’t have needed if she arrived in Raleigh in time.

A spokesman for Amtrak said he would look into Reynold’s complaints. “I can say with certainty at no point did the train loose electrical power,” said Clifford Cole. He said power could have been disrupted during a switch to reserve power.

“All we can do is apologize,” Cole said. “We did the best we could under the circumstances. Our trains are not usually delayed for this amount of time.”

Cole encouraged passengers to contact Amtrak’s customer service line to relay their experience and seek remedies for their inconvenience.

The number is: 1-800-USA-RAIL.

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