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Amtrak passengers spend the night in Bureau County

More than 500 Amtrak passengers who spent the night on board three snowbound trains in Northern Illinois were taken by buses to Chicago Tuesday morning.

Two eastbound trains were stuck in blowing and drifting snow near Arlington in Clarion Township in Bureau County, while the third eastbound train with about 200 passengers stayed overnight in a rail yard in Galesburg.

According to city of Princeton Manager Jeff Clawson, Amtrak freed the trains and returned the passengers to Princeton and provided bus service to the Chicago area. 

After backing up the first train to Princeton, about 90 passengers boarded two buses headed to the Chicago area about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, while six more buses were taking about 300 passengers from the second train about 6:30 a.m. to Naperville and Union Station in Chicago Tuesday morning, said Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman.

Three locomotives came from Galesburg to bring the second train and its 60 passengers back to Princeton, added Magliari. After unloading them onto buses, the locomotives then pushed the empty train back to where the first train was stuck and brought those passengers back to Princeton on the empty train. These 244 passengers were taken to the Chicago area.

“There was a tremendous response to this situation from the Bureau County Sheriff’s office and emergency personnel,” said Magliari.

“The passengers were comfortable in large part because of the Bureau County people who were there to help us. All the trains’ lights, heating and toilet systems were working,” he said. “The passengers were safely sheltered in Bureau County in large part due to the response of local officials.”

The Southwest Chief 4 that had left California two days earlier was the first train stuck about 3:30 p.m. Monday, reported Magliari. The Illinois Zephyr was the second train that got stuck on the track about 4 p.m. Monday.

Three locomotives came from Galesburg to bring the second train and its 60 passengers back to Princeton. After unloading them onto buses, the locomotives then went back to where the first train was stuck and brought those 244 passengers back to Princeton on the empty train to take six more buses to the Chicago area.

Princeton Police Department personnel assisted with the transition from the train to the bus service. The depot was open all night to accommodate passengers waiting on personal rides and individuals waiting to pick up passengers, added Clawson.

Clarion Township Road Commissioner Mark Stauffer and two other workers used end loader tractors including one with a snow-blower attachment to get through deep drifts to a crossing near the train. They had to dig a path through extremely wide drifts of 3- to 4-feet deep on Bureau County roads 2400, 3450, 3350 and 2300 where plows couldn’t push all the snow.

On Tuesday morning, Bureau County Red Cross Director Lori Compton said she received a call about 10 p.m. Monday from Bureau County ESDA Coordinator Kris Donarski informing her of the snowbound trains and the need for a contingency plan if the passengers aboard the trains needed to be evacuated and provided with emergency shelter and food. There was concern the trains had adequate fuel and food aboard. At that point, she understood the trains had been stuck for some time, and there were about 400 to 500 passengers aboard, Compton said.

About 2 a.m. Tuesday, Compton received a second call from Donarski about possibly providing a breakfast service. Compton knew she would need to wait for area vendors to open to get the needed food, however about 5:30 a.m., she got a third call saying the breakfast service was not needed at that time,

Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains 380, 381, 382 and 383 were all canceled Tuesday.

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