Massive delay spawns tips for train travel
When traveling on Amtrak, pack well, warns Wyatt Johnston of Rochester, Minn. “Bring snacks, bring extra batteries, bring one of those portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices you can buy at Walmart. Just be an adult: Be prepared.”
That is wisdom born of experience — a very bad experience. Johnston was among 267 Amtrak passengers stuck on the westbound Empire Builder when heavy rains hit Wisconsin recently. The train made an unscheduled stop in Portage, Wis., due to the deluge and wound up staying there overnight. When it finally moved again, it was 22 hours behind schedule.
On board Johnston’s train, there was no Wi-Fi connection, the train’s power shut off for brief stretches and one toddler cried inconsolably as her parents walked her up and down the aisle. A group gathered in the observation car to drink into the wee hours. By 4 a.m., with the train still stationary, most drifted off to sleep.
For Johnston, who had been visiting family in the Chicago area, the delay made his return home, including a drive from La Crosse, Wis., to Rochester, a 30-hour ordeal.
In the morning, the crew passed around “stale cookies and coffee,” as Johnston describes it. They also fed passengers a lunch of beef stew.
Communication is what Johnston would have appreciated even more than food. “They told us nothing. A lot of us would have made other arrangements when we were in Portage if we’d have known what was going on.”
The frequent traveler has already booked his next trip to Chicago. He’s taking a plane.
Passengers can track a train’s status at Amtrak.com (click “Train Status”). But that information provides no meaningful help once a person is on the train. Passengers board an Amtrak Empire Builder train in 2017 at Chicago’s Union Station.