Mas­sive de­lay spawns tips for train travel

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By Kerri Westen­berg Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune

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.

BRIAN CASSELLA/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

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