500 Amtrak passengers spent the night on snowbound trains in the rural countryside about 80 miles from Chicago last night. Three Amtrak trains were stranded and people spent the night waiting until help could get there, according to Channel 9 News on Jan. 7.
Two Amtrak trains with about 300 passengers combined spent the night on the tracks near Mendota. The third Amtrak train, the California Zephyr, pulled into a rail yard with about 217 passengers on board.
The Southwest Chief from Los Angeles, the Illinois Zephyr from Quincy and the California Zephyr from the San Francisco Bay area were all brought to a halt between Princeton and Mendota about 3:30 p.m. on Monday. The snow and ice that had covered the tracks made the tracks impassable.
Some of the stranded passengers called the media using their cell phones to discuss the conditions they were stuck in. Two of the Amtrak trains had café cars so the Amtrak staff served a dinner of hot stew and mashed potatoes to the stranded passengers. The third train only offered snacks to the cold and tired passengers because this is all they had on board.
Reports of toilets over flowing and little food to go around were what folks complained about the most. All the people that spoke to the media conveyed how well the Amtrak staff treated them and tried to keep them updated. The Amtrak staff could only tell them what they knew and information about their rescue didn’t come until 6 a.m. this morning.
Buses were brought in to bring the stranded passengers to Chicago later on Tuesday morning. The decision to keep the passengers on the train overnight was made after officials assessed the location of the stranded trains.
The trains were stopped in a gully and to try and vacate the passengers in the 5 degree temperatures in the blowing snow wasn’t safe, so they waiting until morning. About two dozen trains were canceled in Illinois today because of the cold and the blowing snow.