Amtrak Train Runs Out Of Fuel, Passengers Told To Arrange Alternate Transportation

An Amtrak train traveling from San Diego to Santa Barbara ran out of fuel eight miles from its destination. Hartford Courant Editor Jeanne LeBlanc’s daughter happened to be on the train, and recounted Amtrak’s puzzling response.

Anyway, the passengers sat on the train for two hours, in the dark for the last 20 minutes, before they were allowed off — but only if they could arrange their own transportation. She called her boyfriend and got a ride.

What would have happened if she could not arrange a ride?

She has no idea how long the other passengers had to wait. The plan, the crew had told them, was to have a freight train push the Amtrak train to an intersection, where a fuel truck could reach them.


We like Amtrak, we really do, mostly because it provides such a poignant counterbalance to “The Little Engine That Could.” Amtrak would be the single best way to travel along the Eastern seaboard if it wasn’t beset by breakdowns, power outages, and random, inexplicable delays. Traveling on Amtrak will continue to be a crapshoot as long as the railroad’s lifeline of federal funding continues to be a meager drip, rather than the full support needed to run an efficient transportation system.

A Pathetic Amtrak Story [Coach Class]
(Photo: Chris&AmyCate)


Edit Your Comment

  1. h4plo says:

    The last time I was on an Amtrak train it killed someone.

    Seriously, it was a guy crossing the tracks with headphones playing apparently so loudly that he wasn’t aware a train was coming.

  2. craiggers says:

    My only experience with Amtrak was a day long trek from Newport News, VA to NYC. The 745 am train was almost 2 hours late because the conductor didn’t get to work on time. Needless to say…I will NEVER take a local Amtrak train ever again.

  3. galeninjapan says:

    This is your tax dollars at work since amtrak is heavily subsidized by the federal government.

    I read that for every passenger traveling the sunset line, L.A. to Miami the government LOSES $400. In other words, it would be cheaper to buy amtrak passengers a plane ticket.

  4. Taranwan says:

    I live in Boston and take the Amtrak train to New York rather than fly because getting out of NY airports is worse. What I don’t get is why the federal government and Congress are so willing to bail out the airlines when they’re facing financial problems but continues to force Amtrak to solve its own financial challenges without additional funds from the government.

  5. at least they weren’t told to get behind and start pushing

  6. dmolavi says:

    FYI, the reason most Amtrak trains on the east coast are delayed is because CSX will not grant them passage on CSX-owned trackage if a freight train is on the line.

  7. banks says:

    In light of this: [], having a freight train push an Amtrak train seems particularly… unpleasant?

  8. ahempton says:

    It’s funny – a similar thing happened to me. Although in my case, the train broke down and we had to wait for the next one to “push us” from San Diego (we were stuck around Mission Viejo) to L.A. Granted, most of my experiences with Amtrak and the Pacific Surfliner have been good, but I was a little irked that no refund was offered after a 5 hour delay, sitting on the tracks.

  9. HalOfBorg says:

    I’d like to know how a train can ‘run out’ of fuel. It’s not like the route to be taken is a surprise, or they don’t know how much fuel it takes.

    @h4plo: Amtrak didn’t kill him – stupidity often carries it’s own death sentence.

  10. DallasDMD says:

    “I’d like to know how a train can ‘run out’ of fuel”

    Not enough fuel in the tank?

  11. SpecialEd says:

    @HalOfBorg: Sounds like someone got lazy and was hoping the train could make it on what was in the tank. Sounds like a firing is in order.

  12. headon says:

    Good thing amtrack doesn’t run an airline. ooffa,
    Or maybe the engineers credit card was declined at the pump.

  13. thetanooki says:

    How unfortunate, but not as bad as yesterday’s Amtrak fun in Chicago. The train was a few miles from Union Station until it ran into the back of a freight train, injuring 71 people.


  14. cnc1019 says:

    The reason Amtrack doesn’t work is because the frieght railroads are ignoring a federal mandate stating that Amtrack passenger trains get right of way. Amtrack was never set up to make a profit or to necessarily get close. The original charter was for an efficient and reasonably priced travel alternative that was comparable in amenities to other travel methods. That has been perverted by the budgeting shortfalls of congress every year cutting the budget to Amtrack to fund their own special projects.

  15. TeraGram says:

    This is not the first time something like this has happened on the same route!

    A group of 4th grade students from my daughter’s school was stranded on an Amtrak train last year. The Amtrak response was very similar. It sounds so trivial, but some of the students didn’t get home until 10pm that night. They were due back in Santa Barbara at 4pm (I think, my kid wasn’t involved, so my memory was less invested, if you know what I mean). They had no food, and some of the parents were very angry at the way Amtrak handled it. From what I recall, initially no one was allowed off the train. The passengers were forced to wait for an Amtrak bus to retrieve them and complete the trip.

    I don’t know if my kid will be making this journey when she reaches fourth grade.

  16. humorbot says:

    @HalOfBorg: Presumably the amount of fuel required to complete a given route varies slightly based on the total weight of freight and/or passengers the train is carrying. No excuse of course.

  17. Landru says:

    I know it’s fun to knock Amtrak, and we should be outraged but I’m not sure if we should be angry at Amtrak or the airlines and their lobbyists. Amtrak should be subsidized the way the airlines are.

    I would much rather have a working high speed rail network than fly. I think a reliable working railroad is really vital to the country’s economic security. Should we have all our eggs in one basket with airlines?

    Other countries can do it. Are I we that worse off?

  18. Superborty says:

    The real issue is not Amtrak getting their budget cut. Real issues are overpaid employees and the fact it is not a privately run enterprise. Government running a railroad? Are you kidding me? Where has that ever happened and it made money? Certainly not in Europe…

  19. hamsangwich says:


    Why should we subsidize businesses that can’t survive on their own? I don’t want to pay taxes for a service I never use. If they can’t make enough money from ticket sales then maybe it’s time to close certain routes.

  20. lemur says:

    @HalOfBorg: Well, besides the possibility that there is no mechanical fault and somebody just did not pay attention to the quantity of fuel needed, there are other possibilities. For instance, the train engine might have developed a leak or the fuel gauge might be faulty. That happens to cars and airplanes so why not trains?

  21. Xoke says:

    In the UK, when you buy a rail ticket it is considered a contract – I paid for them to take me from point A to B. Many years ago I was travelling to university and some idiot truck driver (semi, for you Americans) drove into a bridge. They had to check it was safe for the trains to pass over it and we had to use another track that was much slower (and much busier as everyone was routed that way.
    We were delayed for several hours and I missed my connection. There were no more trains that night so they paid for taxis to take me and the 10 or so others back. We actually got dropped off at our doors by the taxi.
    The only slightly annoying thing was as the train was that late I could have been compensated however I required my ticket. They took the ticket to give me the taxi. Still a taxi to your door is better then having to make your own way and some cash.

  22. embean says:

    The last time I was on an Amtrak train, it also killed someone. Hmm.

  23. Bos'un's Mate says:

    Ran out of fuel?!? Thank god Amtrak isn’t an air carrier.

  24. bhall03 says:

    The “full support needed to run an efficient transportation system” should not be government funding. If Amtrak is so efficient, it should have been able to be a competitive mode of transportation.

    One of the biggest problems with this country currently is a desire to see the government try to solve all of our ills. All the government does is create a wasteful, bloated bureaucracy. I haven’t ever ridden Amtrak and this post hasn’t changed my feelings any. YET, I still pay, via taxes, for this joke of a company to stay in business.

  25. Rusted says:

    @h4plo: Suicide by stupidity.

    @lemur: How true. There was an Air Canada flight. Not sure, but apparently they mixed up liters vs gallons. Landed on a drag-strip somewhere. Gimli Glider.

  26. balthisar says:

    My only experience with Amtrak was trying to get from Lansing to Chicago. When they told me it would be three friggin’ hours late, I drove instead. I tried to give trains a chance. Maybe we need Mussolini.

  27. watchfulshopper says:

    I suppose you never drive anywhere because roads are built by the government which is “a wasteful, bloated bureaucracy”. Why should Amtrak be expected to compete with highways and streets and NOT be subsidized to the same extent? Have you never read the articles that spell out the cost of a new highway overpass or bridge? Where do you think the money for something as simple yet important as highway signage comes from? Government spending at your service helping you find your way home.

  28. Haplo9000 says:

    The only time I ever rode an Amtrak train, it was on a trip that was going to last about 8 hours, all at night. The trip started, and about 10 minutes in, the air conditioners came on and the train turned icy. That train was FREEZING. Now, that’s not so bad…a lot of people like it cold. However, shortly after the temp dropped somewhere south of 60 degrees, Amtrak employees begin walking up and down the aisles selling “blankets” for 20 dollars a pop. The blankets were these sorry little squares that basically looked like an overgrown handkerchief.

    Just a sorry thing for a company to do to customers that are ALREADY paying just to get to a destination.

  29. RickScarf says:

    I took an Amtrak several times as a cheap way to get from my home to college. A few years back around the winter holidays there was a snowstorm in Chicago that delayed (eventually cancelled) the train that I was supposed to be on. So there I was, with another college student, stranded overnight. I say stranded only because we would’ve just gone back to our local dwellings somehow or got a hotel or something, but everytime I called Amtrak they said the train was still coming, just wait for it. We waited and waited. I called every couple of hours, they finally said a shuttle bus would be dispatched to pick us up and run the route. That never came either. It was kind of scary because it was a public terminal, and there were homeless people coming in and out all the time – one guy in the restroom even offered to sell me drugs!
    My uncle finally drove up to get me the next morning, a 4 hour drive. As I was waiting on him I called again (for probably the 7th or 8th time) and was told their records DO show that the bus DID arrive. I told her we were right by the parking lot all night, nobody came as promised several times. I asked for some kind of voucher for future travel for the inconvenience and was pretty much told I was a liar and they would give me NOTHING, not even an apology! My uncle called them when he arrived and told them they lied to me and they did not believe any of this story until he started yelling at them, and they said they would send me a $25 voucher. I think it did eventually arrive, but needless to say I never used it.

  30. rjhiggins says:

    @bhall03: The idea isn’t that government fund Amtrak, but it needs to support the infrastructure with rights-of-way, bridges, tunnels, improved track beds, etc. — the kinds of things governments do.

  31. consumed says:


    “Federal subsidies over the past 30 years or more have favored air and highway travel while relegating passenger-train service to a side rail. Amtrak’s federal funding has remained virtually flat; its annual subsidy was $1.3 billion last year compared with federal funding of about $34 billion for highways and more than $14 billion for air travel. Even mass transit, primarily aimed at helping people get around within cities, drew about $8 billion in federal money.” -Columbus Dispatch, 11/24/07

    You do the math.

  32. Boy Howdy says:

    I took Amtrak from San Diego to Los Angeles last night.

    The train I was supposed to take had to be cancelled, due to mechanical failure, so two trains worth of people were packed into the next train, which was itself late due to the cancellation of the first train. This, although unfortunate, was understandable, as were the additional delays experienced as we made our way up to Los Angeles with an overfull train, as they had to unload and load significantly more passengers than expected at each station, and had to wait for trains to pass, as we were the ones off-schedule.

    So, even though we’d be getting into L.A. about 2 hours after expected, it wasn’t a big deal, and would be totally understandable.

    But then, probably less than 5 minutes from Los Angeles, the train stops, and backs into a refueling station to refuel for 15 minutes. That was pretty frustrating (although it makes a little more sense in light of that).

  33. rmuser says:

    @h4plo: I have trouble summoning pity for any pedestrian who gets hit by a train. Even if you’ve got headphones on, even if you’re deaf, when you’re crossing the tracks, you should look out for oncoming trains. Heck, I’m fully abled and I do it instinctively. Basically, if you’re anything short of Helen Keller, you have no excuse.

  34. JiminyChristmas says:

    I would love to see better passenger rail in the US. I traveled on VIA Rail in Canada this past summer and loved it. None of the hassles with airports. Much more pleasant, and a little faster, than driving. Not to mention, the typical seat is better than what you would get in business class on a plane. Oh, and you can use your phone, and the train offers WiFi service.

  35. irid3sc3nt says:

    Even though Amtrak has been late for departure every time I’ve been on it for one reason or another, it still beats driving through Nebraska on your own.

  36. Queenofthehighway says:

    I’m so not surprised that this happened on the Pacific Surfliner route. For a period of about six months, I took it from Fullerton to Santa Barbara once a week, and we were delayed almost every time. Once, it was due to a wild fire in Simi Valley (but they decided to go through anyway, verrrrryyyy slowwwwlyyy, with the fence posts two yards away from the tracks blazing); another time we hit a truck in Ventura (yes, the driver died); another time we somehow hit a crossing gate and ruptured the air brake line; another time a headlight broke and they dumped us all out at LAX and made us wait three hours for the next train to Fullerton (it’s a half hour from LAX to Fullerton, and about 5 Metrolink trains left in that time for Fullerton… of course Amtrak refused to buy us tickets for Metrolink); several delays were due to engine problems, an engineer being late to work, the failure of a cleaning crew to clean the cars in time, etc. etc. etc. I now send any employee on this route and so far they’ve been late every single stinking time.

  37. Valhawk says:

    I think that the best way to solve this would be for the government to divest itself from Amtrak and get someone who knows what the hell they are doing to buy it and make a profit.

    Just to insure a level playing field, I would also end all subsidies to the airline industry, ALL OF THEM.

  38. FLConsumer says:

    @h4plo: Trains don’t kill people, iPods kill people.

  39. ExecutorElassus says:

    It seems like some folks here are forgetting that Amtrak was originally created because all of the private railroads were going bankrupt in the 60s, and the government felt it was critical infrastructure worth maintaining. The Nixon administration also figured that Amtrak wouldn’t last 2 years, based on how they funded it.
    And why were the private railroads going bankrupt? because the feds were heavily subsidizing air and highway, without subsidizing rail. So @Superborty: yes, the rail lines in Europe don’t make money, and they’re publicly funded. They’re also way faster, cheaper, and more comfortable than driving. If you really want to level the playing field (same for bhall03), then what the US *really* should do is cut subsidies to air and highways, too. Make everything a toll road, and let the airlines just go bankrupt like they should have years ago. And for good measure, cut the massive federal subsidies to the oil industries (ever wonder why Americans only pay about half what Europeans pay for gas? it ain’t the taxes), and nuclear/coal industries, too.
    Then let’s see private industry (because everbody here knows how well private companies do things) duke it out in a fair market.

  40. guevera says:

    It’s funny that there are so many horror stories about amtrack. My experiences have always been so trouble free. I think amtrack’s the way to travel, and the only thing that would ever make me fly instead is time.

  41. erratapage says:

    We had a lovely Amtrak trip from St. Paul to Glacier Park last summer. My only complaint was that the bathrooms got a little gross on the return trip. We got there faster and cheaper than by car and cheaper than by plane.

  42. Crim Law Geek says:

    Thomas the Tank Engine reference FTW!!

    As for my own Amtrak experiences. I once took it with my dad and cousin from Orlando to New Orleans. We took Amtrak mostly for the experience, which was for the most part pleasant. Yes, you’re stuck on a train for 20+ hours, but at least you can get up, grab a hot meal, look through the observatory car windows, or just chill. The leg room in coach is equivalent to that of a decent coach exit row on an airplane, and the seats go back enough that you can sleep comfortable (some turn around so you can sit facing someone. It’s also a lot less sketchy than Greyhound.

    And before I forget the best part, you can bring your own booze on board as long as you don’t do anything stupid, which makes the other passengers _far_ more bearable (specially if you shut them up with booze).

    On the way back the train was delayed 14 hours because of freight getting priority in some of the single-trackage in the desert between San Francisco and NOLA. This wasn’t too bad for us since it made our time in NOLA that much longer, except it sort of sucked to have to get on a train at 5AM. On the upside, Amtrak was _very_ good at letting us know how delayed the train was going to be, so we weren’t stuck in the train station the whole time. It would have sucked if we had to be somewhere, but people in a rush wouldn’t take a 20 hour train ride to get to their destination.

    So yeah, Amtrak rocks if you like long trips, aren’t in a rush, and don’t mind sharing booze with total strangers.

  43. JayXJ says:

    @discounteggroll: Don’t give them ideas.

  44. bonzombiekitty says:

    Actually, I think Amtrak made the right move in this situation. They let passengers off that could arrange alternate transportation. The title of this article is misleading. Amtrak didn’t say:

    “We’re stuck, instead of getting you to your destination, you’re on your own to arrange alternate transportation.” (as the title implies)

    they said:

    “We’re stuck, and we’re going to be a while. If you can arrange alternate transportation, we’ll let you do so rather than just sitting here.”

    Depending on where they are and the number of passengers, it’s hard/pointless for them to get a bunch of busses or something.

    I used to use Amtrak to go home from school and back. The worst situation I had on it wasn’t entirely Amtrak’s fault. Earlier in the day a freight train had derailed, knocking out power on a section of track. Our train got to a commuter line stop just before that section and we stood there for about 20 minutes. After that 20 minutes they told us what happened and they were waiting for a diesel engine to come and get us and that it would only be another 20 minutes or so, people were allowed to get off and smoke. 20 minutes pass and we move about a mile down the track and stop again. Wait another 20 minutes, and tell us that they’re still waiting for the diesel engine, but it should be soon. 20 minutes later still waiting. Another 20 minutes, still waiting. Took almost 2 and half hours for the engine to show up, half an hour for them to hook it up. 10 minutes to pull through the damaged section, and over an hour to unhook the thing. The delay ended up being over 5 hours. If they had told us the delay would have been that long to begin with, I could have gotten off the train when it was sitting at the commuter line stop, and arranged alternate transportation.

    What was worse is that when I got to the train station I noticed that a lot of trains from the other direction were delayed by several hours, and my train was listed as “delayed” (it ended up coming on time tho). I asked an Amtrak rep if there was a big issue and if I should just get a bus instead. She said “no, there’s nothing wrong”.

  45. dwarf74 says:

    @h4plo: Normal, IL a month or so ago?

  46. chortik says:

    i stopped riding amtrak when it turned out to be cheaper, faster, easier to fly NYC-WAS

  47. ooh, suddenly Deutsche Bahn doesn’t seem so bad after all….

  48. bobblack says:

    Amtrack trains all reek of the smell of cigarettes and are freezing cold in the winter.

  49. the_mdg says:

    Last time my wife and I went on Amtrak from Grand Rapids MI to Chicago, a semi truck tried to apparently race to beat a train ahead of us through a country intersection. He lost. We ended up sitting there in the middle of nowhere, amidst cornfields, for like an hour while they cleared the intersection. That was fun! Good thing we got tickets for $8.
    And then just this past weekend, I heard on the news that that same train (there is only 1 train that runs from GR, MI to Chicago) was going way too fast and collided with a freight train down in Chicago, resulting in a derailment.
    Boy, I can’t wait to go again!!

  50. the_mdg says:

    @thirdgen: I agree with this though. I can remember going on a cross-country trip when I was like 10. From Michigan to Chicago, then switch to a double-decker train for the trip to LA, CA, then switch to a smaller train down to SanDiego. At that age, it was the coolest thing ever! Especially when we hit a steer in Texas and it entrails became its extrails, some of which splattered onto the viewing car (the one with huge windows and a glass ceiling too). I’ll never forget that trip . . . for good memories though.

  51. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says: more, get there slower. There’s a winning business model. Amtrak doesn’t even make it to half the states.

    I just love airlines and railroads that leave you stranded and just shrug their shoulders when you’re stuck somewhere.