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One woman describes the chaos aboard the Amtrak Auto Train that was delayed for 20 hours: ‘I will not be going on another train, that’s for sure’

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The Amtrak logo on a train at a station

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  • An Amtrak Auto Train was severely delayed due to a freight derailment that occurred Monday night.
  • One woman told Insider about how the train, filled with irate passengers, began to run out of water.
  • There was also defecation found in one of the bathroom floors, she said.

Mary-Jane Crowley and her husband Mike expected to arrive at their Florida destination by Tuesday morning aboard the Amtrak Auto Train leaving from northern Virginia. 

The Auto Train is a 900-mile train service that goes from Lorton, Virginia, to Sanford, Florida. As a motorail, it allows passengers to transport their vehicles — be it an SUV, a motorcycle, or a jetski — along for the ride. Amtrak advertises the service as a 17-and-a-half-hour journey, which cuts through rural scenes of North and South Carolina. 

Amenities include café service, pet accommodations, and, with a first-class upgrade, bedroom suites with a private restroom and shower. Riders with rooms can also get a restaurant experience in the dining car.

Crowley opted for coach, noting that the seats were comfortable enough. But by late Monday evening, several hours after the train’s departure, the Greenville, New York, resident, said the ride slowly unraveled into a 37-hour “Twilight Zone” moment of frustration and confusion.

“I will not be going on another train, that’s for sure,” she told Insider on Wednesday, exhausted from her long journey. 

On Wednesday morning, Amtrak passengers finally arrived at the Sanford station after a 20-hour delay that was caused by a CSX freight derailment in South Carolina on Monday night. Amtrak told Insider that the incident forced the Auto Train to take a detour. On top of the new route, the train made a few stops to switch crew members and replenish food and water for the passengers.

This included an initial stop in Denmark, South Carolina, on Monday evening, as well as a stop in Savannah, Georgia, and another in Jacksonville, Florida, for pizza, an Amtrak spokesperson told The New York Times.

About 563 passengers were aboard the southbound train, ABC News reported. During the 20-hour delay, passengers recalled the train being stranded in the woods and at one point feeling as if they were being held hostage. (A conductor had to reassure riders that that was not the case.)

One frustrating part of the whole ordeal was the lack of communication from the staff, Crowley said.

She recalled the train stalling a few times on Monday night, wondering, “What is going on?” But it wasn’t until the following Tuesday morning that passengers were told why the train was repeatedly being delayed, she said.

An Amtrak spokesperson told The Times that a CSX freight train hit an unoccupied vehicle in Lake City, South Carolina, before 11 p.m. on Monday. CSX told the newspaper that 25 rail cars and two trains derailed. There were no injuries, according to the report.

On Tuesday, passengers also faced a long stretch of immobility that lasted about five hours, from around 3 to 8 p.m., according to Crowley.

She didn’t know exactly where they were but noticed that the train was stalled somewhere in the woods. (One passenger shared a video of being stuck in the middle of rural South Carolina.)

—Sam Sweeney (@SweeneyABC) January 11, 2023

At one point, during the long stop, Crowley spotted people outside of the train holding flashlights. Some of the older folks feared that the people were going to rob the train, Crowley said.

“Well, they can break in, and we can get out — because we can’t get out of this place,” Crowley recalled joking to herself.

By Tuesday afternoon, Crowley said the frustration really settled in and emotions were running high.

“People were really pissed,” she said. “Really pissed. It was about that time.”

Food and water supplies were running low, Crowley said. Another passenger shared with ABC News’ Sam Sweeney that there were “no more meals” on the train.

“We were buying stuff, we paid for stuff, ” Crowley noted. “They weren’t giving it to us except for a box with some crackers and stuff in it.”

In Crowley’s car, a mother with a crying baby was at her wit’s end when she realized she may be running out of diapers. Older passengers were worried about their medications; and there was a concern for two therapy dogs who were stuck on the train. (One passenger, Hannah Dore, told The Times that crew members allowed her service dog to relieve herself several times.)

Crowley quietly feared that, at any moment, someone could blow up in frustration.

Therapy dog that was on the AmtrakOne of the therapy dogs that were aboard the Amtrak Auto Train.

Mary-Jane Crowley

An Amtrak spokesperson previously told Insider that “customers were provided regular updates, along with meals, snack packs, and beverages. Additional food from local businesses along the route was also provided during the trip.”

Perhaps one of the lower moments of the prolonged trip was when one bathroom had defecation on the floor. Someone attempted to clean up the mess, Crowley said.

“Nobody could get off of this train,” she said. “There were people who were starting to get irate and say things. Some were talking about a class-action lawsuit.”

Crowley and another person also had the idea to reach out to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. One Twitter user tweeted at him, saying that the situation was “ridiculous” and could get “dangerous.”

—Cooleen (@collmckenna) January 10, 2023

Crowley compared the train ride to a “bizarre movie.” 

By around 6 a.m. Wednesday, the Amtrak train arrived at its final destination. It would be a few hours, after running a few errands, before Crowley could rest at her home in Naples, Florida.

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