Press Release

January 18, 2023
“Train Ride from Hell”: Senators Demand Answers from Amtrak after Harrowing Passenger Accounts from 37-Hour Delayed Journey

WASHINGTON — After disturbing Amtrak Auto Train passenger accounts from a delayed 37-hour-long journey, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner demanding answers about the incident and an explanation of the company’s policies to ensure adequate customer treatment. 

“While we understand the train was rerouted to avoid an incident on the track and that Amtrak must abide by hours of service laws, it is difficult to imagine a sufficient justification for the distressing conditions passengers described experiencing,” wrote the senators.

Hundreds of passengers aboard last week’s Amtrak Auto Train from Virginia to Florida faced a long delay in their journey due to another train derailing, with one passenger describing it as the “train ride from hell.” During what turned into a 37-hour-long journey, passengers reported limited access to food, bathrooms, and medical care, as well as limited ability for pet owners to disembark, resulting in feces on train floors. Despite Amtrak’s claims of regularly updating customers and providing additional meals and beverages, numerous passengers reported bad conditions and confusion, with some dialing 911 to report being held hostage aboard the delayed train.

“It is concerning that this is not the first multi-hour delay impacting the Auto Train during which passengers described dire conditions,” continued the senators. “Last January, after a severe winter storm, a northbound Auto Train’s journey took about 30 hours – and passengers reported similar experiences on board: poor communication of the train’s status and limited food and water. It is alarming that passengers are suffering the same insufficient treatment during a similar situation more than a year later.”

The lawmakers called for Amtrak to provide answers about the company’s policies and procedures for passenger care and compensation in the event of similar delayed incidents, and “to ensure that Amtrak has robust, humane policies in place to ensure proper passenger treatment during extended delays.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

January 18, 2023

Mr. Stephen J. Gardner

Chief Executive Officer

Amtrak

60 Massachusetts Avenue, NE

Washington, D.C.  20002

Dear Mr. Gardner,

            We are extremely troubled by descriptions of Amtrak passengers’ experiences on the Auto Train last week. These stories fit an alarming pattern of ill-preparedness in Amtrak’s response to extended train delays. We write to inquire about Amtrak’s policies and procedures to provide adequate care and provisions to passengers in the event of unexpected, sustained delays.

            On Monday, January 11, 563 passengers on board the Auto Train—including children and the elderly—departed Lorton, Virginia, at 5:00 p.m. and were scheduled to arrive in Sanford, Florida, at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 12. However, the journey took nearly 37 hours, concluding in the early hours of Wednesday, January 13. During that time, Amtrak said it was “providing regular updates to customers, along with meals, snack packs and beverages” and “working with pet owners to provide bathroom breaks,” but passengers’ accounts drastically differed. Passengers on the delayed train described limited access to food, bathrooms, and medical care; they also reported feces on the train floor because dogs and their owners were not allowed to temporarily disembark. While we understand the train was rerouted to avoid an incident on the track and that Amtrak must abide by hours of service laws, it is difficult to imagine a sufficient justification for the distressing conditions passengers described experiencing.

            It is concerning that this is not the first multi-hour delay impacting the Auto Train during which passengers described dire conditions. Last January, after a severe winter storm, a northbound Auto Train’s journey took about 30 hours – and passengers reported similar experiences on board: poor communication of the train’s status and limited food and water. It is alarming that passengers are suffering the same insufficient treatment during a similar situation more than a year later.

            In order to better understand Amtrak’s policies and procedures for passenger care and compensation, we respectfully request a written answer to the following questions by January 31, 2023:

  1. What are Amtrak’s passenger care policies and procedures in the event of sustained and unexpected delays? Please include food and beverage provision, bathroom access and maintenance protocols, access to medical care, and train ingress and egress opportunities in your answer.
  2. Were these policies revisited after the January 2022 Auto Train delay? If so, what changes were made not; if not, please explain why not.
  3. What sort of policy changes will Amtrak implement to improve operations and prevent insufficient passenger treatment during delays going forward?
  4. We understand the delayed train stopped multiple times to replenish food and water supplies. When sustained delays occur, does Amtrak give passengers the opportunity to safely disembark the train and arrange alternate methods of transportation?
  5. We appreciate Amtrak’s commitment to provide fare refunds to each customer. Will Amtrak be providing: (i) full refunds to each customer, regardless of the type of ticket booked; (ii) refunds in the form of the original payment; and (iii) refunds for any upgrades, vehicles, pets, or other comparable fees paid for by a passenger? If not for any of the above, please explain why not.

            Thank you for your attention this important matter. We look forward to working with you to ensure that Amtrak has robust, humane policies in place to ensure proper passenger treatment during extended delays.

Sincerely,