clear
Saturday February 13th, 2016 8:01AM

Deep freeze strands rail, air travelers nationwide

By The Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) -- The Amtrak train slowed to a crawl as it hammered through snowdrifts in an empty stretch of Illinois countryside, delivering thuds and jolts to passengers, until it lurched into a mound big enough to grind its 8,000-horsepower engine to a halt.

About 90 miles short of their Chicago destination, passengers sheltered inside the train overnight, reading books, watching movies on computers and taking what amusement they could from a conductor who cracked jokes over the intercom. Food ran low and some tempers boiled over, but staff kept the heat on, entertained children and even escorted small groups of people outside for smoke breaks.

"You hear those horror stories about the cars that stop in the snow and they freeze to death. I thought, `Oh God, this is going to happen, we're going to be in blankets," said passenger Chris Smith.

They weren't alone. Across huge swaths of the country, the polar vortex froze travel. Motorists, airline passengers and commuters were left fighting to stay in motion and, when that failed, fighting to stave off boredom and cold. Airlines again canceled several thousand flights Tuesday, as the extreme cold slowed everything from baggage-handling to refueling. On the roads, powerful winds pushing the snow into desert-like dunes forced authorities to shut major highways, including a 75-mile stretch of Interstate 81 north of Syracuse, N.Y., to the Canadian border.

The snow-bound train stuck near the tiny village of Arlington in north-central Illinois was one of three Amtrak trains carrying a total of 500 passengers that got stuck in the state overnight. Amtrak officials eventually got them to safety, then bused them to their destinations. A fourth train, carrying 150 people from Washington, D.C., to Chicago came to a halt in Indianapolis because of blowing snow.

Smith's train began its journey in warm Los Angeles, passing the Grand Canyon and carving through wheat fields before rolling into trouble in the frozen Midwest.

"They started to cut through heavier and heavier drifts," said Smith, 45, a sound designer for films who got on the train at Garden City, Kan. "The passenger on my side was joking, he said, `I think we ran over somebody.' They weren't huge bumps, but it was enough to jerk the train."

When the train stopped altogether, around 4 p.m. Monday, a conductor came on the loudspeaker and quipped, "As you can see, there's a little bit of snow out there."

"At first it was kind of funny, and our conductor had a good sense of humor about it, and then it stopped being funny," said Carley Lintz, a 21-year-old journalism student on her way back to Northwestern University from her home in Gardner, Kan.

The crew served a dinner of beef stew over rice, but the lounge car eventually ran out of everything but drinks, Smith said. Several passengers speaking to news outlets by cellphone earlier Tuesday had complained about deteriorating conditions, including flooded sinks and toilets, but Smith and others on his train said they only saw overflowing trash cans.

As night set in, some tried to sleep. Others paced the aisles. There was enough of a 3G signal for those glued to smartphones and tablets to stay connected. Lintz plowed through two books, and was thankful for the conductor's humor.

"She made it into a story," Lintz said. "She started, `Once there was a train that wanted to get to Chicago.'

"... But it was the little train that couldn't get through the snow," she said with a chuckle.

Another train coming to the rescue also got stuck. Local authorities arrived. Crews shoveled and plowed, and passengers eventually were moved to a second train, taken back to Princeton, Ill., and put on buses to Chicago. The ordeal lasted some 17 hours.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said emergency workers were on standby, and that train crews handed out food and prepared for any medical issues, though he said there were none.

Airlines and airports also continued to suffer under the strain of the cold Tuesday, though conditions appeared to be improving by afternoon.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins said lines on fueling trucks froze, reducing the flow so greatly that stopping to refuel lasted an hour instead of the usual 15 minutes. Southwest had shut down operations at Chicago's Midway Airport for several hours Monday but restored some service there by evening, Hawkins said.

United Airlines still was operating reduced schedules at its hubs in Chicago, Cleveland and Newark, N.J., partly because it was dangerous for ramp workers to be loading bags outside in the extreme cold.

A flight cancellation led Chicago high school teacher Rob Chambers, his husband and mother-in-law to take the train back to Chicago after the couple got married in Delaware, where same-sex marriage is legal. But their trip came to a halt in Indianapolis for more than a day because tracks were closed by heavy, blowing snow.

"We're calling it the honeymoon ride home and here we are stuck in Indianapolis," Chambers said by cellphone.

.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
U.S, Cuba to resume commercial flights for 1st time in 50 years
The United States and Cuba will sign an agreement next week to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades, starting the clock on dozens of new flights operating daily by next fall, U.S. officials said Friday.
By The Associated Press
9:35PM ( 10 hours ago )
New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain are emerging
WASHINGTON (AP) — New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain emerged Wednesday as U.S. health officials say mosquito eradication here and abroad is key to protect preg...
6:22PM ( 2 days ago )
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that spread it here and abroad, but says "there s...
10:40PM ( 4 days ago )
Search for Missouri couple wanted for crimes across the South, including Ga., ends with one suspect dead and the other wounded
A weeklong search for a Missouri couple wanted in a series of robberies and abductions across the South ended with one suspect dead and the other wounded Friday, after authorities say they chased the pair across the highway and through a rural neighborhood and exchanged gunfire with them in Florida's Panhandle.
By The Associated Press
9:57PM ( 1 week ago )
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while, buoying consumers, frustrating oil producers
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while.That reality is wreaking havoc and causing uncertainty for some governments and businesses, while creating financial windfalls for others. Less expensive...
6:18PM ( 1 week ago )