Cambridge resident Nick Yeh was planning to do some errands and laundry Sunday afternoon after returning home from his Thanksgiving break in New Jersey.
But the 23-year-old, who teaches at Cambridge public schools, had to tweak his schedule quite a bit due to some unforeseen circumstances.
The Amtrak train he was traveling on from New York to Boston stalled on the tracks just after leaving Penn Station due to a power issue. It remained in that state for more than 5 hours.
“And then we had another 5 hours back,” said Yeh in a telephone interview Monday. “We left Penn Station at 9:40 a.m., and we got into Boston at around 8:20 p.m.”
Yeh was one of hundreds of passengers stuck on Acela train 2230 for hours Sunday as crews tried to fix the issue.
“Have been stuck on stranded Amtrak train for 5 hours now after sudden power loss,” one person tweeted from the train. “Things are getting dicey in here: a woman threatens to sue over unsanitary conditions in bathrooms, cafe car shut down; i do reckon it’s only a matter of hours before people start eating each other.”
According to an Amtrak spokesman, “pantograph damage caused by debris in the catenary” — a power issue with the equipment that connects the overhead wires to the train — caused the train to break down outside of Queens, N.Y., around 9:51 a.m. The train didn’t start moving again toward Boston until around 3:45 p.m., the spokesman said.
With the power out during that time, the toilets on the train would not flush and the air became stifling because the air-flow system was not working, Yeh said.
“It started to get really stuffy,” said Yeh. “Every bathroom in the train was filled to the brim I think. That’s the nicest way of putting it. Both number one and number two. It was not great.”
Yeh said despite the circumstances and long delay, passengers on his train car remained “pretty calm.”
He said to deal with the stuffiness on board, crews opened up train doors to let in some fresh air.
The cafeteria was also open, and customers were accommodated with food and non-alcoholic beverages, according to an Amtrak spokesman.
“It could have been worse. If I was stuck on a plane on the tarmac for five hours, I’d probably lose my mind,” Yeh said. “But we could still walk around and purchase food, so I wasn’t horribly frustrated.”
Ian Bakst, 28, who was on his way to Boston for a conference this week, also found ways to keep his cool while waiting for crews to get the train going again.
He did some work on his laptop until it eventually ran out of battery power. Then he listened to some music before turning his attention to other passengers nearby.
“I found things to pass the time. I’ve been bored for longer,” he said. “If I just let myself stew on the train it would have been a horrible, horrible experience.”
While both Bakst and Yeh said the crew on board did their best to handle the situation while workers tended to the equipment, they’d like to hear from Amtrak officials about being compensated for the long ride home. No one from the company has reached out to them yet.
“When airlines delay you two or so hours due to mechanical things they usually give you some sort of compensation,” said Bakst. “I think that’s what they'd do as a travel company but no one has brought that up.”
An Amtrak spokesman said the company is in the process of having “conversations with customers and offering appropriate compensation.”Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.