What happened on the weekend of October 24-25 on the Surfliners?

Report by Noel T. Braymer

Train 571 left San Diego on time at 10:35 A.M. from San Diego on Saturday October 24, 2009. But by the time the train got to San Clemente around 11:40 the brakes locked up on the Business Class Car bringing the train to a halt.

This was just the start of the problems for Amtrak and the passengers of trains 571,785 ,763 and 768. Despite being on the busiest passenger corridor outside of the NEC, train after train flew by the 571 as it sat stuck in Serra Siding in San Juan Capistrano. Six hours latter an Amtrak train stopped to pick up stranded passengers. This would have been train 785 bound for San Luis Obispo. By the time train 785 got into Anaheim it was around 9:00P.M and the train crew was running out of time on their legally allowed work day. By this time many passengers bailed out of the train and car pooled in taxis to get home. The 785 was about 3 hours late getting into San Luis Obispo.

Sunday morning after some repairs it was decided to use train 763 to bring train 571 back to Los Angeles. It left San Diego at 6:10 A.M. and was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles by 8:50 AM before proceeding to Santa Barbara. Train 768 arrived on time at 9:25AM in Los Angeles from Santa Barbara . Amtrak changes crews in Los Angeles for trains running between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. The crew from train 763 usually gets off at Los Angeles and takes train 768 to San Diego leaving at 9:40 A.M. On Sunday October 25th train 763 didn’t leave at 9:40. By 10:20 A.M. an unhappy passenger asked the Café Car attendant why the train hadn’t left. The very defensive attendant didn’t know. Shortly after this the Business Car attendant got on the public address system saying the train was delayed because the engineer was late arriving, but that the train would be leaving soon. Of course the reason was there was no train crew. The only Amtrak employees on the train were the two attendants. No one from Amtrak it seems had noticed that train 763 hadn’t arrived at Los Angeles Union Station by 10:20 A.M or that train 768 hadn’t left by 10:20. Only after someone started asking questions that a crew was found and the train left at 10:50 A.M. The first public address by the train crew wasn’t an apology, but a warning that the lower level of the cars were for elderly and handicap passengers, and that luggage for passengers sitting in the upper level left in the lower level would be taken off the train if not moved.

Train 768, which I was on, arrived about an hour late into Oceanside after 12:30 P.M. As the train went through Serra Siding I was shocked to find 3 trainsets of Pacific Surfliner equipment in the long siding as we went by. Complicating life this weekend Metrolink was doing track work adding switches and a stub end track to a platform at the Mission Viejo/Laguna Niguel Metrolink Station north of San Juan Capistrano. But this doesn’t explain why the passengers of train 571 were left stranded for over 6 hours. Or an in-service passenger train was being used to tow a disabled train. Less than 30 miles away there is a rail yard in Camp Pendleton for the Coaster, Metrolink and BNSF. Metrolink runs trains on this route on the weekends., couldn’t they have helped? Couldn’t the BNSF be used to bring a train crew and locomotive to tow train 571 out of the way, even as far as Los Angeles? Was Amtrak trying to save money? If so how much money was lost from hundreds of angry passengers calling their friends and family that their train was very late and how unprofessional Amtrak was?

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