Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Amtrak Odyssey

I had to make a quick trip back to Maryland to return Joyce's car.  Taking advantage of the journey, I loaded it up with as much as I could so we would not have to bring it back next month when we return to Maryland for the summer.  While I was there I made a quick dusting of the house and a quick pick up of the yard then prepared for my return trip to Savannah.

I had hoped to take a military hop from Andrews AFB to Charleston and then Amtrak to Savannah, but due to ambassadorial events that could restrict access to the base passenger terminal when I needed to leave, I decided to take the Amtrak Palmetto train from Baltimore to Savannah instead.

I began my trip with a ride from my neighbor to the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train station at Martin Airport in Essex, MD, about 6 miles away.  I hopped the 7AM train to Baltimore's Penn Station and awaited the departure of the Amtrak Palmetto (#89) at 8:54AM. It was on time and my odyssey began.

The journey from Baltimore to Savannah is about 12 hours if all goes well.  It didn't.  We were on schedule up to Petersburg, VA., but once we departed the station, the conductor made an announcement regarding speed restrictions resulting from the hot weather.  It seems all of the rails south of Washington D.C. are owned by CSX Corporation and Amtrak, when on their rails, must abide by their rules.  CSX had issued a speed restriction beginning at 1 PM through 7PM.  This meant to use we had to reduce our normal speed of 80MPH/129KPH to 60MPH/96KPH.  This would cause a delay in route from that point on getting us into Savannah about an hour and half late. Not too bad. Oh well, Mother Nature strikes again.  But wait!  Not so quick!

Resigned to a late arrival most passengers, including myself, called ahead to alert those necessary about the delay.  All was well as we pulled into Fayetteville, North Carolina.  The train remained in the station about 10 minutes and as it departed we noticed a number of police officers converging on a large man on the station's platform.  In the few seconds it took to leave, we saw the officers surround the man and try to take him into custody.  Oh, well.  We all have seen something like this before. A few moments later we heard that this man had been waiting for his girl friend and as she departed the train, he noticed her turn around and waved at a passenger in the train.  The passenger waved back.  I guess that is all it took for the man in question boarded the train, went through the cars, found the man and punched him in the face.  Some of the passengers came to the aid of the stricken man as the, let's call him the Perp, tried to leave.  By the time he did get off the train, police had been called and several were waiting for him on the platform.  His girlfriend had gone and he was left with the police officers as company.  He was quit irate and began to get pushy.  That is when we pulled out of the station.  We saw the man who had been punched later on and his right eye was swollen shut.  On to Savannah.  But wait!  Not so quick!

We had traveled about 30 minutes from Fayetteville and were passing through the small town of Pembroke, North Carolina when everyone in our car heard a loud muffled thump followed by an immediate stopping of the train.  The conductor came on right away and told the passengers that the train had a difficulty and they were going to inspect it to make sure it was still travel worthy.  Uh Oh!  I had been on an Amtrak train before that had a similar problem (and sound).  It had been an electrical cable that had come loose between the cars and had to be replaced with spares they carried.  Not too bad.  But wait!  Not so quick!

Word spread quickly through the cars that we had hit someone.  Several people in the last car (I was in the next to last of 10 cars) tried to get off the train and help the victim, but the conductors quickly stopped that effort.  In retrospect, if a train had run over someone there would be no use for first aid.  Anyway, several of the train staff had already investigated and we were quickly told their had been an "accident" and the police had been called.  We would be delayed for a short while until they arrived.  Somehow I did not believe it would be just for a short while.

The police arrived quickly as did the fire and rescue.  Additionally, quite a few civilian personnel arrived at the scene.  They looked very "official".  After about an hour the conductor came onto the intercom and updated us on the situation.  It seemed a local had been lying on the tracks and the train struck him/her.  The person had been thrown up under the train and had ricocheted under the cars.  That's the thump we heard.  By the time the train had stopped, what was left of the victim was behind the train.  No one could see out the back of the last car.  All for the better I suppose.  The police would not release the train until after they investigated completely.

We were finally released and our journey resumed.  By this time it was past the 7PM speed restriction and we were able to continue the trip at the proper speed.  The conductor came on the intercom again shortly after we started to move and explained what had happened in detail.  He was audibly shaken.  The delay was not all due to the police investigation.  The train's engineer had asked to be relieved.  Completely understandable.  Also, Amtrak senior personnel were on the site along with a replacement engineer and had to be briefed as did the replacement engineer before we could continue.  The rest of our journey was without incident.  We arrived in Savannah at 12:34 AM.

I had been in touch with Joyce through the whole odyssey and made sure she was updated on our progress.  She and Guinness had arrived at the Amtrak station in Savannah an hour before our scheduled arrival of 9:03 PM (she wanted to drive there before it got dark).  When I got off the train Joyce and Guinness were waiting on a bench  for me a short distance away.  They both recognized me right away and Guinness went ballistic with joy. After he calmed a bit I was able to get a kiss and a brief hug from Joyce before we headed back to Berry Oaks (around 1:20 AM). 

Don't confuse this with Homer's Odyssey ( I'm sure you won't), but it is one of my very many odessi.  Home and safe.  Heading back to Maryland for the summer in mid-May.

Click on this link to the local news report on the Amtrak incident:  Amtrak train kills man in Pembroke

1 comment:

Jean said...

We'll be taking Amtrak to Chicago & back this summer. We've been warned to expect delays, but air travel has plenty of those too. We're looking forward to the experience and hope to do more travel using this mode of transport.