Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
While I’m not sure if there’s standard operating procedure for what should happen after two trains collide in the Union Station railyard, there’s certainly some things that train personnel shouldn’t do when dealing with anxious and agitated passengers caught up in the delays. Although the morning train collision was minor—7 were hurt, however—the effects were felt by most everyone trying to get in and out of Union Station via Amtrak or MARC.
For me, train No. 136 to New York was scheduled to depart from Union Station at 5:05 p.m., but while I was at the shoeshine stand getting my boots polished up, I received an automated telephone call from Amtrak telling me that my train was being affected by an “operations” delay. While the call was nice, it wasn’t particularly helpful—the train information display screen already alerted me to the delay.
Here’s where train personnel at Union Station made some missteps, frustrating me and my fellow Amtrak riders.
At 5:05 p.m., when the train was supposed to depart, an Amtrak-looking guy came up to an assemblage of waiting passengers outside Gate F—me included—and told us that our train was pulling in from the yard, but had not been assigned a gate yet. That was true—the train information display did not show a gate for No. 136. A few moments later, a gate and a track appeared! B10. Suddenly, there was a rush of people to Gate B, one of a cluster of gates that normally serves MARC’s Penn, Camden, and Brunswick line passengers. Over the public address system, there was an announcement that No. 136 would be leaving from Gate B. Since the doors were wide open, there was mass of people who poured outside near the platforms. It was chaotic. There were no train personnel on hand to tell passengers for No. 136 that the train hadn’t even pulled up to Track 10. Although information display signs at Track 10 said that’s where No. 136 would board, Amtrak police officers told the assembled mass of people, who were mixing with MARC passengers heading to their trains, to go back inside—where there were still more people trying to push their way outside. When a clearly irked MARC staffer told everyone to go back inside, one person told him “the only reason why we came out here was because the announcer lady told us to board at Gate B.” MARC man’s response: “She must have tripped.” As extreme crowding conditions made the already agitated passengers even more agitated, the “announcer lady” kept on announcing every 20 minutes that No. 136 was delayed 20 minutes. When a MARC staffer told Amtrak passengers that the MARC waiting-area vestibule between the platform and gate area was for “commuter rail customers only,” an angry woman said: “We are commuter rail customers, we’re commuting home to New York on Amtrak!” About 10 minutes to 6 o’clock, the real boarding announcement was made. Again, there was a rush at the gate. As tickets were checked at Gate B, others dashed through Gate C and bypassed having their tickets checked.
At 6:35 p.m., the train pulled away from the station, but the interior lights in my train car are flickering. Wish me luck and have a good weekend!