Three Amtrak trains headed to Chicago were halted Monday, stranding passengers for up to 14 hours overnight as the tracks were blocked with snow and ice buildup.
Two trains - a Southwest Chief train with 244 passengers coming from Los Angeles and an Illinois Zephyr train with 60 passengers headed from downstate Quincy - were halted about 3:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. respectively in Bureau County, about 75 miles southwest of Aurora, Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said.
"Those trains have been delayed since late yesterday afternoon because they've reached an area on the BNSF Railway which was impassable due to snow and ice buildup, and the trains simply couldn't make their way through," he said "So rather than try to unload passengers or try to get some other means to get people of the trains, the best, safest thing in these temperatures is to shelter people in place on the trains."
Charter buses were being used to transport the passengers the rest of the way to Chicago. One bus arrived at Chicago's Union Station just before 7 a.m. Another was scheduled to start heading toward Chicago at about 5 a.m.
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A third train, a California Zephyr with 217 passengers coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, was stopped about 7 p.m. in Galesburg, about 50 miles south of Moline, Magliari said. That train was still stranded as of 6 a.m. Amtrak crews were working to either find an alternate route or charter buses to unload the passengers, Magliari said.
In all three cases, Magliari said passengers were provided complimentary food and beverages and had heat and toilet service. But at least one passenger in communication with NBC Chicago said some of those provisions ran out on Monday evening.
Allie Hoffman, one of about 60 passengers on the No. 380 Illinois Zephyr from Quincy said that while apples and candy bars were handed out to passengers at about 3 p.m., water ran out about four hours later.
"I can't confirm that information," said Magliari. "We've had emergency responders by train-side all night long. If there'd been an issue, it would have been addressed."
Even with more than 8,000 horsepower engines in each train, snow and ice buildup rendered the tracks "completely impassable," Magliari said.