I was on vacation in the Midwest last week, and happened to be on an already-two-hours-late Chicago-bound Amtrak train which struck and killed a 20-year-old Illinois State student a few yards from the Bloomington-Normal station. The train was delayed another couple hours while the police conducted an on-site investigation, meaning we got into Chicago about four hours later than scheduled (phenomenal, when you consider it only takes a little over four hours for a swift driver to make the St. Louis to Chicago trip on I-55).
The accident's not what bothered me about all this; these things happen with more frequency than people realize, and the kid losing his life is a million times more tragic than a couple hundred passengers pulling into Chitown way later than expected. What did piss me off was: (a) the Amtrak senior crewman joking around with one of the cops and smoking what must have been an entire pack of cigarrettes in plain sight of every passenger on the train while no one else was permitted to step outside, including a grandmother-grandson combo who were literally a couple hundred yards from their destination (it was the grandson's first ride on the rails, and they boarded a stone's throw away in Springfield just to make a day-trip out of it), (b) the two-hour delayed departure from St. Louis. Every other time I ride Amtrak, I say, "never again." This time I might finally mean it. (c) after the accident, instead of offering vouchers, a round of free beers, dinner in the dining car and/or grief counseling for the many folks, including me, who witnessed the dead kid getting hauled into an ambulance with a blood-smeared face, the cafe car attendant offered up free bottled water and a snack pack to anyone who wanted it.
And that was it—the train pulled off post-investigation as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and when we pulled into Chicago, there was a half-assed apology with the caveat that what had transpired was "out of Amtrak's control." What a crock of shit; Congress needs to quit its year-long habit of keeping Amtrak on fiscal life-support. Either pull the plug and privatize the nation's rails, or give the quasi-public trains the money they need to provide even the most mediocre level of service. Because right now, Amtrak is a fucking joke.