KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Lauren Buchman was still on the Amtrak Wolverine passenger train 11 hours after boarding in Ann Arbor on Friday when it stopped yet again, this time about 40 minutes outside Chicago. She and others eyed the nearby casino.
The Amtrak train from the Detroit area to Chicago, which passes through Kalamazoo, is supposed to take about 5.5 hours. On Friday, it took about 19 hours, pulling in just after midnight Saturday.
The last stop about 40 minutes outside Chicago was to replace the crew, which under federal law can work no more than a 12-hour shift. Then, Amtrak officials said, the train had more mechanical problems.
Buchman, a 22-year-old recent University of Michigan graduate, had already missed a night of Chicago barhopping to celebrate her friend’s birthday.
“Some people were looking out of the train and seeing like, ‘OK, there’s a casino over there and there’s a parking lot over there, so maybe we could just hop off this train,'” she said. “At this point, I’m like, ‘Screw it, I don’t want to be on here any longer. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to take.'”
She called her mom, 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.
And so after calling her mom again and getting the OK, she made her escape.
“The conductor said, like, ‘I will not open the door for you; this is you doing it out of your own will,” Buchman recalled Monday.
She and others hopped off the train, pushed through weeds, rushed over several sets of railroad tracks and climbed through a hole in the fence.
“We’re waiting for our Ubers and as our Ubers are arriving, 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 aren’t unusual. The train makes it on time less than 60% of the time, well below federal standards that call for 80%. It’s the second worst record among 26 state-supported routes in the U.S.
Amtrak says the trouble Friday started near Chelsea, when the train that had started in Pontiac early in the morning had mechanical problems. There was also a 911 call from the train for a medical emergency.
The train also didn’t have electricity, which meant no flushing toilets.
“When they told us we couldn’t flush, I was like, ‘I’m not even going to go near the bathroom,'” passenger Katie Kobiljak said. “I’m just going to stay away.”
They waited hours for a second Amtrak train to hook up and push them to Chicago. When that didn’t work, the second train backed up and towed the broken-down train. Two trains, Wolverine 353 pulling Wolverine 351. A total of 450 passengers.
“I was listening to people all around me canceling hotels, canceling museum tickets, canceling dinner reservations, all sorts of plans were falling through for everybody,” Kobiljak said. “Everybody’s breaking point was just before we got to Jackson.”
She got off the train in Jackson, nine hours and 72 miles from where she had boarded in Dearborn. She arrived in Chicago by car the next day, in plenty of time for her first Chicago Marathon.
When asked if she would take Amtrak again, she said: “Well, they offered me a voucher to make up for this trip. I can’t say I’m going to rush to use it.”
As for passenger Lauren Buchman, she was returning home from Chicago Monday.
“Well, we’re on the train again,” she said in a text to News 8. “Hopefully this time we’ll make it there in four hours.”
In an email exchange with News 8 Monday, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari wrote: “We began contacting customers from both trains over the weekend to repeat our apologies and offer them refunds or transportation credit for a future trip, at their option.”