brought train service to a standstill Wednesday throughout the northeastern United States. Some trains are stranded just outside Penn Station. Others are stuck between Newark and New York City. The trains have enough electricity to power the lights and heat but not the engines.
Spokesman Cliff Cole said Amtrak was investigating Wednesday's malfunction and there was no indication human error caused it, but that extreme weather can affect the electrical system. Weather across the region Wednesday morning was seasonally cold but mostly clear. At Washington's Union Station, at least one train was announced as canceled and some passengers said they were told by Amtrak personnel that the problems were related to cold weather. Nicole West-Burns, who was getting off a southbound train, said Amtrak told her and other passengers getting on in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning that the doors were frozen shut.
Electrical problems are nothing new on the Northeast Corridor, by far Amtrak's most heavily traveled route. Three disruptions occurred within a month in 2006. The worst, on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend, stranded tens of thousands of passengers for up to four hours, some in sweltering tunnels. That was blamed on problems at power stations and substations built in the 1920s near Philadelphia. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2007, damage to overhead wires near New York disrupted service for about 2 1/2 hours.
Cincinnati streetcar supporters maintain that rail travel is far less susceptible to weather trouble than other transportation options. But they continue to ignore the "all or nothing" nature of rail travel. Cars, buses, taxis, and airplanes have the ability to detour around bad weather, closed facilities and other snafus, whether they're weather-related or not. Rail is inherently limited to a single possible path, and when that path is blocked, nothing can pass the blockage, so travelers have no choice but to wait. And all the other travelers simply stack-up behind them.
Amtrak has earned a nationwide reputation for poor service and low reliability. And now Ohio has named Amtrak to be the operator of it's speculative 3C rail starter project. The Urbanophile says, "this would be a big mistake. Amtrak’s brand in most places is terrible and the politics around it have been poisoned. Why would we want to saddle our brand new state of the art high speed rail system with Amtrak’s old school operating practices, antiquated work rules, and legacy costs like retiree pensions? Let’s start de novo on this one. We don’t need to just change technology. We need to change the whole culture around rail operations."
Several thousand holiday travelers in New England probably couldn't agree with him more.