Passengers were stuck on an Amtrak train traveling from the Washington, D.C., area to Florida for almost a full day longer than expected after its route was diverted in rural South Carolina because a freight train derailed.
For Michael McFadden and his family, what began as a fun trip to Florida to visit Legoland turned into a nightmare after a train ride meant to last around 17 hours turned into a more than 35-hour ordeal.
“We had a limited amount of time for our vacation, and I feel like it’s just done,” McFadden, 47, said in a phone interview early Wednesday, still onboard the train with his wife and 7-year-old son.
The train had departed from Lorton, Virginia, around 5:30 p.m. Monday and was scheduled to arrive in Sanford, Florida, around 10 a.m. Tuesday, McFadden said. But by 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, around 35 hours after its departure, the train had still not reached its destination, he said, adding that crew members had announced the train was expected to arrive at its destination at around 6 a.m.
McFadden, a software engineer for a media company, said his family had originally planned the trip for November but were forced to reschedule after their train was canceled because of Hurricane Nicole.
“I just feel like I’m bad luck, that’s how I feel,” McFadden said.
The Amtrak Auto Train was affected by “significant delays” after a CSX freight train derailed in South Carolina, a spokesperson for Amtrak said in a statement early Wednesday. The Amtrak train was detoured from its normal route to continue operating south, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said passengers were provided with regular updates, along with meals, snack packs and beverages.
The train arrived at Sanford on Wednesday morning after a delay of around 20 hours, Amtrak said. The trip normally takes around 17 hours and 30 minutes, according to its website.
McFadden said that if he had been given the option of getting off the train, he would have, but he said passengers were told they would not be able to disembark at any point.
He also said that at one point, after he had posted a video on YouTube of an Amtrak worker addressing passengers, passengers were asked over the intercom to refrain from sharing videos and photos on social media.
He further questioned why the train stopped at one point for hours waiting for relief crew members to arrive.
“The question that we are asking is, why did the train have to stop in the middle of nowhere — not even a small station, and have crew drive to the train?” McFadden said in an email.
McFadden said that at one point his 7-year-old son was “convinced we could get off the train, he put on his shoes.”
“We had to tell him, ‘You can’t get off the train.’ He was really sad about that,” he said.
Amtrak did not immediately respond to an overnight request for further information, including why the train stopped where it did and exactly how long it was delayed in South Carolina.
McFadden said he felt that the situation “could have been handled (better) if somebody decided that revenue was not the most important thing.”
The CSX derailment occurred around 11 p.m. Monday in Lake City, South Carolina, when the freight train hit an unoccupied car on the tracks, CSX spokesperson Cindy Schild said.
No one was hurt, and no hazardous materials were on board, but 25 rail cars and two locomotives derailed and remained upright, Schild said. The tracks were cleared, and slow-speed train operations resumed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, she said.
In October, passengers on an Amtrak train headed from Detroit to Chicago were also affected by major delays when a trip meant to take around five hours ended up taking nearly 20 after the train lost power, NBC Chicago reported. In that case, passengers were reportedly able to get off the train well before it reached Chicago.
Emma Li and Matteo Moschella contributed.