The Day Amtrak’s “Hell Train” Crawled Across Southwest Michigan
The disastrous journey of Amtrak’s Wolverine 351 could have been a scene from the epic travel movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, the 1987 comedy film directed by John Hughes, starring Steve Martin and John Candy. In the film both men team up, trying to get to Chicago by Thanksgiving, while various transportation disasters plague their efforts. One attempt included boarding a train in Wichita, Kansas, that eventually broke down in Jefferson City, stranding its passengers in a field. The passengers who boarded Amtrak’s Wolverine 351, in Pontiac, Michigan, Friday afternoon on October 8th, 2022, probably wished they had been stranded in an open field, attempting to reach Chicago.
The doomed rail trip leaving Pontiac at 6 AM on that fateful Friday morning, and then on to Chicago, was supposed to be a 5 ½ hour trip, passing through the scenic Michigan countryside at speeds up to 110 MPH. The communities of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo often see it daily, zooming down the rails without a care in the world. That all changed on that fateful day of October 8th, 2022. The 5 ½ hour trip turned into a 19-hour ordeal with passengers traveling without light, heat, or running toilets, creating a stench that amplified the epic failure of Wolverine 351.
The Nightmare Begins
The Associated Press reports that the problems began west of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the train was halted due to power problems, according to Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams. One of the results of the loss of power is that the toilets fail to flush. Passengers were quoted saying that by the end of the 19-hour trip, the toilets were like an overflowing port-a-potty.
Eventually, Wolverine 351 was connected to another passenger train, after several attempts, that would pull it to Chicago. That is, until it stopped near Jackson, Michigan, for two hours, without power, due to a medical emergency involving a passenger. Some passengers exited the train, sensing a disaster was in motion. Wolverine 351 then continued, just making it over the Michigan border, into Indiana when a brake issue halted the trip, and then, once again for battery problems. It was just after the stroke of midnight, on Saturday, October 9th, when the Wolverine limped into the Chicago station.
Passengers Recover In The Aftermath
The general consensus among the weary, disheveled, and somewhat smelly passengers, was that there was a communication breakdown between them and Amtrak.
Michael Bambery, who boarded the Wolverine in Ann Arbor at 7:15 AM, Friday morning, said,
We’re feeling like we can’t stay on this train anymore. We’re getting no information from Amtrak. Again, we’re cold, hungry, people needing to use the bathroom. It smells awful. And a percentage of people are having acute anxiety symptoms and screaming.
Bambery decided to abandon the Train from Hell, paying $200 dollars for a rideshare to finish the trip at his Chicago hotel room that provided running water, a flushable toilet, and fresh sheets. Amtrak spokesman Abrams told MLive.com that Amtrak wrote an apology to the exhausted passengers and offered transportation vouchers.
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Gallery Credit: Jacob Harrison