Amtrak messed up big-time this weekend when the eastbound Pere Marquette required 12 hours more than the schedule allots to cover the 176 miles between the two cities. Michigan officials are demanding answers about the causes for the delay, the welfare of passengers on board the train and why it left the Holland station with knowledge that the crew was about to be taken out of service.
One question they should also be asking themselves is why did they entered into a $6.4 million contract with Amtrak to provide passenger rail service that does not include penalties for poor performance. Overall, Amtrak trains in Michigan ran late 75 percent of the time this year, with a 10-minute allowance; on the Grand Rapids line westbound trains ran late 88 percent of the time.
The main culprits are track and signal problems and train interference on the two freight lines the trains operate over, CSX and Norfolk Southern.
Meanwhile, things back at Chicago Union Station got even grimmer as the Christmas holiday approached. Associated Press reports approximately 600 passengers waited up to 22 hours to board the Seattle-bound Empire Builder and New York-bound Lake Shore Limited.
While the delays can be blamed on snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures, these conditions are nothing new. Chicago winter weather has been a fact of life for far longer than there have been railroads in the Windy City. One would think that after 37 years in business Amtrak would have a handle on how to cope with them.
"Many passengers weren't happy with how Amtrak dealt with the delays.
Sydney Cochran was heading to Rochester, N.Y., to visit family and complained that Amtrak didn't offer blankets, pillows or food overnight. She added that no one provided clear answers about when the train might leave, if at all.
"I'm furious," the 68-year-old said.
Barbara Gruenbacher of Manhattan, Kan., said she, her husband and four kids shivered through the night despite wrapping themselves in blankets as they slept in the station.
"The lack of heat is what put people over the edge," said Gruenbacher, who was also heading to New York to visit family."
On Amtrak's website, CEO Joseph Boardman issued a statement of apology.