RPA Seeks FRA Review of Amtrak Incident

The Federal Railroad Administration has been asked to investigate an incident in which an Amtrak Wolverine Service train was delayed by more than 13 hours by a series of mechanical issues while en route.

The train had departed Pontiac, Michigan, in the Detroit suburbs at 5:43 a.m. on Oct. 7 but didn’t arrive in Chicago until just past midnight. The scheduled arrival time was 10:49 a.m.

The request for a review was made by the Rail Passengers Association, which called for the FRA to conduct a debriefing and critique session as required under federal regulations “after each passenger train emergency situation . . . to determine the effectiveness of its emergency preparedness plan.

RPA is seeking observer status in any such review, which the association noted must under federal law be held within 60 days.

The problems began with a locomotive failure on Train 351 about 20 miles west of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The consist of No. 351 was eventually combined with Wolverine Service train 353, which was following about two hours behind.

However, passengers riding Train 351 had no electricity, working toilets, food service or heat during much of their journey. Passengers told news media reporters that they received little information from Amtrak as to what was happening.

Contributing to those conditions were a series of cascading mechanical failures.

Some passengers decided to disembark near Gary, Indiana, after the original Amtrak crew ran afoul of the federal hours of service law and the train sat on a Norfolk Southern mainline awaiting a replacement crew to take the train into Chicago.

Those passengers opened doors, crossed active railroad tracks and walked through waist-high grass to a nearby highway where they summoned ride sharing services to take them to Chicago.

RPA head Jim Mathews said he has met with Amtrak management about the incident and said they recognize the seriousness of what occurred.

However, he said there remain many open questions about how the incident was handled, how alternate arrangements were considered, and how poorly passengers understood what was happening.

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