Penn Station at noon is usually just as busy as the midtown streets surrounding it. But the day after the fatal Amtrak train derailment that killed seven people and injured many more, the usually bustling hub was eerily quiet.
The Amtrak waiting concourse, so packed with people on a normal day that it’s impossible to walk in a straight line from one side to the other, had just a few dozen travellers waiting to go to Boston and to Trenton. At the platforms serving Philadelphia and Washington D.C. – some of the most well travelled routes in the country on a daily basis – the lines of people were conspicuously absent.
Over at the Amtrak service windows, however, the line was growing gradually longer – some people arriving in a state of confusion about whether their trains were running (they weren’t) and others resigned to just getting a refund and making other plans (plane tickets were getting pricier by the hour, one commuter told Metro).
Jeanette Amara, 43, is on holiday from Norway. She booked a flight to D.C. - she needs to get there by Friday to catch her flight home. But the real issue for her is the quality of service from Amtrak staff for stranded travellers.
“What I am a bit surprised by is the lack of service by the Amtrak people. I have been here three times today and I am surprised by the lack of people serving the line. The first woman was really rude and said I should come back on Friday but I told her Friday would be too late. I know it’s tough to answer the questions but there should be a better way to do it than the way they are handling it,” she said.
One bewildered couple walked away from the service windows with “Greyhound” scrawled across their printed Amtrak ticket. They discussed intently among themselves what they should do next.
A scattering of travelers stood glancing anxiously at the billboard – for a handful of people trying to get back home to Philadelphia the best solution seemed to be re-routing via New Jersey, and then improvising from there, perhaps with a rental car or perhaps with a bus.
Steve Mullin, 59, runs a consulting company in Philadelphia - he was one of those commuters. He said his wife and kids are keeping him posted on the news while they anxiously wait for him to make his way home from a business trip to Boston.
“I was planning on coming back last night – one of my colleagues did – and they stopped in Trenton. Fortunately he was like 15 minutes before the crash. It definitely made me think more than once about it [taking the train] but I still consider it pretty safe. I’ve taken that Amtrak back and forth to new York and I live about two miles away from where the crash was in Philadelphia,” he said.
Leah Van Voorhees, 27, was waiting to get home to Vermont - though her train was not directly affected, she said she was definitely a bit shaken up when she heard about the derailment.
“I just heard about it. Six people died, right? It’s so sad. It doesn’t make you want to get on a train, that’s for sure,” she said, “I’m glad I didn’t see it before because I probably would have panicked.”
With Amtrak service between New York, Philadelphia and D.C. not expected to be back on schedule any time this week, it seems certain that it will be a while before before Penn Station is back to its hectic routine again.