Train Jumpers: Amtrak drivers exit the 19-hour journey across Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Lauren Buchman was still on the Amtrak Wolverine passenger train eleven hours after boarding in Ann Arbor on Friday when it stopped again, this time about 40 minutes outside of Chicago. She and others eyed the nearby casino.

The Amtrak train from the Detroit area to Chicago, which runs through Kalamazoo, is scheduled to take about 5.5 hours. It lasted about 19 hours on Friday and moved in just after midnight on Saturday.

The final station, about 40 minutes outside of Chicago, was intended to replace the crew, who, under federal law, are not allowed to work more than a 12-hour shift. Then, Amtrak officials said, the train had more mechanical problems.

Buchman, a 22-year-old University of Michigan graduate student, had previously missed a bar hopping night in Chicago to celebrate her friend’s birthday.

“Some people looked out of the train and said, ‘Okay, there’s a casino over there and there’s a parking lot over there, so maybe we could just get off this train,'” she said. “At that point I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t want to be here any longer. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to be.’”

She called her mother who told her to stay on the train.

“There was a girl my age sitting behind me and she was like, ‘If you do it, I’ll do it,'” she said.

After calling her mother again and getting the OK, she managed to escape.

“The conductor said something like, ‘I’m not going to open the door for you; you’re doing it of your own free will,” Buchman recalled Monday.

She and others jumped off the train, pushed through weeds, sped across several tracks, and climbed through a hole in the fence.

“We’re waiting for our Ubers and as our Ubers arrive, more and more people are getting off the train and doing what we did,” she said.

Delays on the Wolverine route from Pontiac to Chicago are not uncommon. The train arrives on time less than 60% of the time, well below federal standards, which require 80%. It’s the second-worst record among 26 federally-supported routes in the United States

According to Amtrak, the problems began near Chelsea on Friday when the train, which had departed from Pontiac earlier that morning, experienced mechanical problems. There was also an emergency call from the train for a medical emergency.

The train also had no electricity which meant there was no flush toilet.

“When they told us we couldn’t flush, I thought, ‘I’m not even going near the toilet,'” said passenger Katie Kobiljak. “I just stay away.”

They waited hours for a second Amtrak train to join and take them to Chicago. When that didn’t work, the second train reversed and towed away the stranded train. Two trains, Wolverine 353 pulls Wolverine 351. Total 450 passengers.

“I was listening to people around me canceling hotels, canceling museum tickets, canceling dinner reservations, all sorts of plans falling through for everyone,” Kobiljak said. “The breaking point of everyone was just before we got to Jackson.”

She got off the train in Jackson, nine hours and 72 miles from where she boarded in Dearborn. She arrived in Chicago by car the next day, in time for her first Chicago marathon.

When asked if she would take Amtrak again, she said, “Well, they offered me a coupon to make up for that trip. I can’t say I’ll rush to use it.”

Passenger Lauren Buchman returned home from Chicago on Monday.

“Well, we’re back on the train,” she said in a text message to News 8. “Hopefully we can get there in four hours this time.”

In an email exchange with News 8 on Monday, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari wrote: “We began contacting customers on both trains over the weekend to apologize again and offer them their choice of refunds or haul credit for a future trip to offer.” Train Jumpers: Amtrak drivers exit the 19-hour journey across Michigan

Dais Johnston

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