Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Sunset difficulties at San Antonio

It is not our purpose at TFA to defend Amtrak under all circumstances, nor is it our job to condemn all negative press accounts. It is very true that reporters generally know very little about railroads and are under a lot of pressure to get more than one story done before a deadline. When you add in the seeming step-child status of the Sunset Ltd., there is a strong possibility to get things wrong.

By the time one group of inconvenienced passengers left San Antonio, their train was so far behind that it was not even on the right day of the week. I may a well admit that I was confused at first, so it is little wonder that Clear Channel flagship station WOAI TV had a few problems with the story.

News 4 WOAI’s Demond Fernandez spoke to those passengers about the delay.

“We’ve been over here for 12 hours already, going on 16 hours, now we got to wait,” said one passenger that waited while Amtrak tried to fix the problems.

“If you’re just sitting in one spot for 16 hours, that’s hard on anybody,” added Floyd, another passenger.

The travelers were stuck with no place to go.

“They broke the train apart. There is no dining car on the train. The toilets are overflowing,” said Anthony Verlec, on his way to Los Angeles.

“I’m missing a day of my reunion because I’m getting there late and I’m real unhappy about it,” said Ella Whitmore. She was on her way to Arizona.

Many of the riders said Amtrak was not giving any clear answers on when they would get back on track.

According to an Amtrak spokesman, the delay all started in Shrivner, Louisiana. That’s where the city had to evacuate because of a natural gas leak.

The spokesman says that leak set the train schedule back 12 hours. To top that, a passenger died of natural causes on a connector heading to pick up these people.

“The thing is there are no contingency plans. Only thing they tell us to do is wait,” said Verlec.

The people we talked to were heading to cities all over the country. Amtrak’s spokesman said the company regrets the delay.

He says they tried accommodating the passengers by offering them two complimentary meals.

(Deep breath)

The “stranded” passengers were not on the eastbound Sunset, but on the southbound Eagle from Chicago, St. Louis, and Fort Worth. Their cars would have immediately continued west on the Sunset to California had that train been on time, but the incidents in Louisiana caused the tremendous delay.

I feel very sure that Amtrak might have handled this better, although one should remember that the rail service is operating with not enough employees or equipment. Blame Congress and the various administrations which have starved this company since day one in 1952 1971.

According to my top secret source, “Deep Throttle,” taxis took the folks to a nearby Denny’s for breakfast on Amtrak. Later, a charter bus took them to a restaurant, again on Amtrak. I am reliably informed that some of the people waiting for the very late Sunset actually walked to nearby attractions.

Apparently, some unhappy passenger made a media call from the train once they were again underway Amtrak’s response was probably insufficient.

It’s hard to organize a full-scale witch hunt knowing that Amtrak employees are already overworked and demoralized. The minimal netowrk of long distance trains, especially the three times a week Sunset, is woefully under funded.

Amtrak management should develoop contingency plans. Congress should develop a realistic budget that includes, stations, track work, signalization, and employees on both the northeast corridor and the other 40 states.


Filed under: Amtrak, Travel Woes

2 Responses

  1. Ran says:

    “starved this company since day one in 1952.”

    My apologies for nitpicking, but 1952? Don’t you mean 1971?

    Copy editing aside, I applaud your efforts to add some perspective and accuracy to the Amtrak debate.

  2. patlynch says:

    Thanks for the correction. Much appreciated. Sometimes we work too fast!

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September 2007


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