WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Winter Storm Stalls Amtrak Trains

Jan 7, 2014

During winter weather, it’s common for flights to be canceled and roads to be closed.  Usually the trains still run without incident. 

An Amtrak train, pictured here during better weather.
Credit Rich Egger

But during the winter storm of the past few days, Amtrak passengers in the region found themselves stranded on trains for hours at time.  The Carl Sandburg Train that left Chicago on Sunday morning bound for Quincy only made it as far as Mendota. 

Large snow drifts and severe cold stopped the train and eventually knocked out power, as passengers were stranded for hours. 

Kimmie Nott was one of them.  The WIU student and Macomb resident was on her way back home from visiting her boyfriend.  She says it never occurred to her the storm would stop the train.

"I honestly thought a train as big as that could just go through any snow drift and be ok," Nott said.  "I didn’t think a snow drift would have any effect on a train, especially moving as fast as it was."

After 7 hours passengers were transferred to another train that took them as far as Galesburg, where they were on their own to complete their journey. 

Amtrak had more problems Monday as the Illinois Zephyr was late getting out of Macomb, got stuck near Princeton, and stranded passengers for more than 12 hours until busses arrived at 4am to take them the rest of the way to Chicago.  

Jim Kenny of Macomb was on that train, headed to Chicago to catch a flight for a ski trip out west.  He says it was boring and the emotional stress was high, but the conditions weren’t that bad.

"Unlike an airliner stuck on the tarmac, you can get up, you can walk from car to car, you have much bigger seats and more leg room," Kenny said.  "There were a couple of snarky comments, but by in large the group was very polite and mannerly and they understood the situation."

Kenny calls it a freak occurrence, and says he won’t hesitate to take the train again.  Nott says she may have second thoughts on train travel in bad weather.  Both of them say Amtrak personnel on the train were great, but the corporate office did a bad job of sending information to train personnel and passengers.