16 May

It was at this point in my trip that I had to make a small detour to reach my next destination, Memphis (Tennessee). So, I hopped on to my first and second of four total journeys where I would just be travelling in coach.

Now, I previously remarked upon the fact that Amtrak services are subject to delays. Well, lucky for me that I factored in plenty of time into my journeys or I could have come seriously unglued on this journey. Not so much on the outbound leg, that was only delayed by just over an hour.

I had advised the hotel of the possibility that there might be a delay, but an hour is nothing. Or, at least, it is nothing compared to the 5 hours delay I had on the way back to New Orleans.

The train was meant to leave the Memphis terminal at 6.40am on the Friday 12th May. Well, 8 o’clock, it finally pulled into the station. Then, to my bewilderment, the Amtrak crew stopped to pose for selfies with a tour group from Colorado. By the time we finished boarding everyone, it was 9am. Had I known this, I could have enjoyed a modest breakfast before heading back to the Bayou City. 

So, it was 9am when the train pulled out of the station. Then at 9.10am, we had the first delay as we waited for a convoy freight train to pass by. 10 minutes later we were on our way again, however this happened throughout the journey, so that there was no opportunity for the train to make up the time it had lost.

The longest wait was literally right after the last stop before reaching New Orleans and it has to go down as one of the strangest delay reasons you can imagine. Basically, New Orleans is separated from the state of Mississippi by Lake Pontchartrain. As this is an active water way, any bridge that spans the lake is designed to raise and lower when required. The outgoing train, i.e. the one heading from New Orleans to Chicago earlier that day had made it through without incident. However, after that the rail bridge had to be raised to allow maritime traffic to traverse this part of the lake. What should have happened next is that the bridge should then have been lowered right away when it was clear that there would not be anymore ships using that stretch of water. This did not happen and so when it came time for the bridge to be lowered, it was stuck in the up position!

I wish I was making this up to goose up my travel blog, but I swear that this is really what happened. But it was what happened next that was so absurd that it warrants a particular mention. With the electronics not working, the bridge engineers called out to solve the issue were left with having to manually crank the wheel that lowers the bridge. No wonder then, that this entire process took almost an hour to complete.

By this time, several passengers, that had become increasingly unhappy over the ever increasing delays, were ready to riot. Amtrak personnel, reading the frustration of the people, quickly handed out free bottles of water and little snack packs. Still, they knew that if the bridge was not lowered without further delay, things would escalate. I saw several passengers tweeting and posting on Amtrak”s Facebook page to complain about the delays and the lack of sufficient explanation and to their credit, Amtrak responded to all of those I was aware of very quickly and offered several travel vouchers. One family was advised to contact Amtrak when they got into New Orleans for a full refund. (They had been on the train since Chicago and suffered delays before reaching Memphis). So, British rail companies take note, this is a lesson in how to do customer care ….

Ultimately, a train that should have arrived in New Orleans by 4pm did so at 9pm in the evening. I had planned to take one more spin around town to take some more photos to add to my blog, but the train delay torpedoed that spectacularly. Now, if I had not already paid for all of my Amtrak trips in advance, I would have hung around to argue for a partial refund, but since I would be back at the station 12 hours later to continue my journey west to the city of San Antonio, I needed to get a good night’s rest without delay. Hopefully the next journey would be less eventful. At least I had upgraded my accommodation to a roomette, so I would be able to catch some sleep on the journey.

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