Stuck in ice: NY woman stranded on Amtrak train after snowstorm damages tracks

Local News

RICHMOND, Va. — A Long Island woman returning home after spending the Christmas holiday week in Miami has been stranded on an Amtrak train in Richmond, Virginia after a snowstorm toppled trees and power lines — and froze the tracks, as well.

Claire Czeczil told PIX11 News on Tuesday that she’d been on the train for more than two days.

“Right now we are in Richmond, and everything around us is ice,” Czeczil said.

Czeczil, who is immunocompromised, said she booked her own sleeper on the train because of concerns about COVID-19.

“The train left (at) 11:50 a.m. Sunday from Miami,” she said. “I was supposed to be at Penn Station Monday at 6:50 p.m.”

The trip was scheduled to be 31 hours. Instead, Czeczil said the train ran into trouble on Monday near Lynchburg, Virginia.

“The conductor said there were trees on the tracks because of the snow,” Czeczil said.

The Hicksville woman said she had to call her supervisors to let them know she was stuck on the train and wouldn’t make it into work on Tuesday.

Czeczil said she fell asleep late Monday night and the train moved a little bit overnight.

“When I woke up, we were in Richmond, Virginia. I think it was about 3:30 a.m. (Tuesday) when we got here,” she said.

At midday Tuesday, the train still hadn’t moved north.

“They have the heat on,” Czeczil said, noting it was 78 degrees in her sleeper cabin.

Czeczil said people have been getting angry and frustrated, but there hasn’t been any major incident, so far. She said Amtrak has been feeding the passengers at no charge.

“They’ve been generous with that,” Czeczil said. “We’ve been eating.”

But she said it’s certainly not the way she expected her Christmas trip to end after spending a week with her sister in Miami and departing for home on New Year’s Day morning.

And Czeczil’s train wasn’t the only one affected by the storm.

Two passenger’s told PIX11 News affiliate WRIC that they’d been stuck since 5 p.m. Monday. The train they were on departed from Georgia.

Like Czeczil, they said staff member handed out cheese, water and meals from a local McDonald’s to passengers.

Passenger Sean Thornton said in a phone interview that the railroad was providing food, but toilets were overflowing and passengers were furious. The Richmond, Virginia, resident was in a sleeping car with a private toilet, but he said coach passengers were suffering “a wretched, wretched experience” with cars reeking of overflowing toilets.

“I get it that there are weather conditions,” said Thornton, who was traveling from Atlanta to Charlottesville, Virginia. “The real failure here was communication and management involvement.”

Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods wrote in an email that the train would go on to New York, where it was supposed to arrive on Monday, once the tracks were clear.

Thornton said that the train crew offered no information after the train parked north of Lynchburg for hours Monday without cell service, until finally backing up to the city around midnight, with no word on what came next. He said the train ran out of food Monday and that passengers weren’t offered anything to eat until McDonald’s was brought to the train around midmorning Tuesday.

Thornton also said a member of the train crew yelled at passengers over the public address system on Monday to stop complaining to them, instead telling them to call Amtrak’s 1-800 number.

“If they can actually move this train, great,” Thornton said after nearly 40 hours. “But if they waste another day trying to figure it out, people are really going to lose patience.”

Malcolm Kenton of Washington, D.C., said he and his aunt walked away from the train after it returned to Lynchburg and hitched a ride to a hotel several miles. He said he and his aunt are trying to rent a car or catch a train on Thursday because they don’t want to wait at the station for an unscheduled departure.

“We’ve pretty much given up on getting back on the same train,” Kenton said in a Tuesday phone interview from his hotel. A longtime Amtrak rider, he said he still prefers the train to driving or flying, but said the current delay is “among the worst” he’s ever encountered. He said it seems like downed trees could have been cleared more quickly.

“Amtrak does not seem to do well in handling these situation when they arise,” Kenton said.

A separate train bound from Roanoke, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., got stuck on the same tracks, said Tamera Ferguson of Lynchburg. She said her son spent 14 hours on the train before it returned to Lynchburg after 1 a.m. Tuesday. She said the railroad didn’t offer stranded passengers other transportation or hotels.

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