Recently I was lucky enough to visit my brother in San Diego. We had a lovely time.
While I was there my ex-husband-now-dear-friend was also in southern California. We decided to meet up for an afternoon. We had to fit the afternoon into his busy schedule of meetings so I decided to go to him; giving us the added opportunity for me to see his house here in the USA, (he currently lives and works in India); and to meet his children.
I decided instead of driving 3+ hours I would take the Pacific Surfliner (a special Amtrak train that goes up and down the southern California coastline making stops.
I got on at Oceanside, CA and got off 13 stops; 2+ hours later, in Moorpark, CA.
My friend picked me up and we had a most pleasant afternoon. We ate Mexican food. We visited his home and his children. We hung out at a charming Irish pub. He took me back to the train station.
I got back on the train. The train went through it's first Simi Valley stop with no problem. When we pulled into the second stop, Chatsworth, there were policemen with guns waiting to board the train. YIKES!
We were asked to leave the train and leave our luggage. I didn't have luggage. I just had a scrapbook which contained the short story referenced in this blogpost and all the work on my current wip novel.
The police were acting as if we would be back on the train shortly and I had a good seat so I decided to leave my sketchbook in my seat.
I can't even begin to tell you all the ridiculous details of the next four hours. There was an armed passenger barricaded in the bathroom and the police could not get him off.
BUT here's the thing that boggles the mind; AMTRAK HAD NO PLAN IN PLACE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY LIKE THIS. NONE. NADA. ZILCH.
We, the passengers, stood on concrete sidewalks for 4 hours. There was a grocery store about a quarter mile away but you had to cross a very busy 4 lane highway to get to it. Some of us did that just to go to the bathroom. Others were not physically able or were afraid of going too far away from their luggage.
My sketchbook is a loss but there were people with real luggage including necessary medication on the train.
4 hours later Amtrak sent a bus and some of us, me included, got on it to head for LA Union Station where Amtrak had a train waiting to take us home.
The bus got lost on the way to the station because the normal off ramp was closed. The bus driver had to pull over and a passenger had to google map directions for him. (Silly me, I would have assumed modern buses would be equipped with a GPS system.)
We got to the station and the bus dropped us off ACROSS THE STREET from it. Another busy 4 lane highway to cross. Once inside the station Amtrak had our waiting train at a gate that required another long, long walk.
I got to the train and sat down in a comfortable seat not far from a bathroom and breathed a sigh of relief.
The train did not leave the station for ANOTHER 1 AND 1/2 HOURS. I was supposed to arrive back in Oceanside at 9:20 PM on Friday. Instead it was 3:40 AM on Saturday.
People were enraged and for good reasons.
Amtrak should have emergency plans in place. Those tickets are not cheap and Amtrak wants people to consider them a reliable option for transport.
At all times there were no less than 30 people with guns at the scene and yet - even knowing there were people who needed medication - they could not be persuaded to go aboard the train and bring out everyone's luggage. The gunman was barricaded in the bathroom. They couldn't get him out. They had ample time and opportunity to make this much less of a tragedy for everyone and they refused to do so.
I read on the internet that they tear-gassed the gunman out 8 hours later. Why they waited 8 hours to employ teargas is a mystery to everyone who was there.
Here is a link to an article about the train evacuation.
Here is a link to an article about the police getting the gunman off the train.
There is a military term that adequately describes Amtraks response to the situation: FUBAR.
(Fucked up beyond all repair.)
Needless to say, Amtrak is no longer a travel option for me.
And I doubt I will ever see my sketchbook again.
Still - I'm alive and I didn't lose all my belonging or my medication so it could have been worse.