Winter Woes and Snows Pile Up In Front of Amtrak.

Well, 48 hours after I bragged that Amtrak was still running while thousands of passengers were stranded because of the miserable weather, winter doubles down and just about everything comes to a halt … including some of the trains.

In New Jersey, it’s been so cold that the catenary – that’s the overhead wire from which the engines draw their electric power – has contracted and broken in a number of places, thus interrupting train service along sections of the Northeast Corridor.

As for the long-distance trains – specifically the Southwest Chief and the California Zephyr – well, they ran into trouble once the eastbound trains got out of the mountains and into the flat country of southwestern Illinois. That’s where both trains simply bogged down in snow drifting as much as 12-to-14 feet deep across the tracks. 

Passengers were finally taken off the trains and bused to Chicago where they stepped off the buses and right in front of waiting TV news cameras. Predictably, some of them groused about Amtrak, but most realized that they may have been stuck, but at least they were warm and dry and safe aboard their trains.

Farther east, and a few hours earlier, extreme cold froze most of the toilets on the westbound Lake Shore Limited, prompting extra long stops for passengers to use the facilities in stations en route.

There have been a couple of other incidents, but a look at the Train Status map on the NARP website indicates that, by and large, most trains are running, although many are behind schedule.

Bottom line: Despite the problems and the delays, if you had to travel over the past few days, Amtrak was probably the best choice. For confirmation, ask the folks sleeping on the floor in airports all over the country.