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Stuck in White River Junction: Amtrak Passengers Forced to Disembark Due to Weather

  • Nearly four times the usual number of Amtrak passengers disembarked in White River Junction after service north of the station was canceled due to ice  Sunday, December 22, 2013. Many of the 192 that people left the train sought local accommodations or rides to their final destinations.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Nearly four times the usual number of Amtrak passengers disembarked in White River Junction after service north of the station was canceled due to ice Sunday, December 22, 2013. Many of the 192 that people left the train sought local accommodations or rides to their final destinations.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford police officer Tom Lyman directs Jean Orellana of Peru to a White River Junction hotel after his trip north to Stowe, Vt. was cut short by icy weather Sunday, December 22, 2013. The rail service requested a police presence at the station in case passengers became hostile due to the shortened service. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hartford police officer Tom Lyman directs Jean Orellana of Peru to a White River Junction hotel after his trip north to Stowe, Vt. was cut short by icy weather Sunday, December 22, 2013. The rail service requested a police presence at the station in case passengers became hostile due to the shortened service.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nearly four times the usual number of Amtrak passengers disembarked in White River Junction after service north of the station was canceled due to ice  Sunday, December 22, 2013. Many of the 192 that people left the train sought local accommodations or rides to their final destinations.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Hartford police officer Tom Lyman directs Jean Orellana of Peru to a White River Junction hotel after his trip north to Stowe, Vt. was cut short by icy weather Sunday, December 22, 2013. The rail service requested a police presence at the station in case passengers became hostile due to the shortened service. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — Although the Upper Valley was spared the brunt of the damage from the weekend ice storm, scores of travelers were scrambling to find transportation north of White River Junction Sunday, as both Amtrak and the Greyhound bus line canceled Vermont trips north of the village.

White River Junction was the last stop for an Amtrak train that was supposed to continue north to the Burlington area. More than 100 Amtrak passengers who had hoped to travel beyond Hartford had to disembark, several passengers said, after Amtrak employees told them that downed trees and branches on the tracks were disrupting train service.

Furthermore, Greyhound bus lines had canceled all trips north of White River Junction starting at 7 a.m. Sunday because of icy roads, according to a ticket agent at the Station Market.

The combination of the Amtrak and Greyhound cancellations presented a conundrum for many passengers, said Jed Cohen, of Stowe, Vt. Cohen was among the passengers who got off the train around 7 p.m. Sunday, and met friends and family who had arrived to rescue stranded travelers; taxi drivers lined up in hopes of ferrying the rest to area hotels.

Cohen had coordinated one of those cabs from the train when he learned that passengers were “kind of on (our) own” in White River Junction. He called a Stowe-based cab driver, Jim Podrasky of Blazer Transportation, who made the trip down to pick up Cohen. Another pair of passengers was coordinating to possibly split the cab with Cohen back to Stowe that night.

“I’m not home yet, but it’s been OK so far,” Cohen said.

Another passenger, Hugh Knox of Greensboro, N.C., had planned to travel from Washington D.C. to Montpelier. As he jumped into a cab Sunday night on his way to a motel he’d never heard of, he summed up the experience in two words: a “big inconvenience,” he said.

Hartford Police were on hand Sunday night, as Senior Officer Tom Lyman said Amtrak had contacted the department ahead of time. Lyman said none of the passengers had approached officers with concerns about finding shelter.

Amtrak passenger Jon Robinson got on the train in New York City and had planned to travel to Montpelier. His girlfriend, who is staying in Montpelier with family for the holidays, was going to try to come down to pick him up if it was safe enough, he said. But other passengers were not so lucky to have alternative transportation.

Announcers on the train have “basically just been saying over and over we’re stopping (in White River Junction), there’s currently no plan to get passengers beyond White River, we don’t know anything about travel options for (Monday), we know that the buses aren’t running,” Robinson said in a phone interview from the train. “I think if I didn’t have somebody who was able to drive me, at this point I really wouldn’t know (what to do).”

He said Amtrak employees told him that 80 passengers had planned to go to Essex Junction and 40 to Montpelier, and that workers with chainsaws were trying to clear the tracks.

A message seeking comment was not returned by Amtrak officials on Sunday.

Robinson said passengers were “impressive” in the way they were coming together to try to help those who didn’t have rides or accommodations.

“People have been talking about making rooms available in their homes and giving each other rides,” he said.

He added: “If this was a flight, we would probably just stay at the airport, (but) we can’t stay in the sheltered train platform.”

Indeed, some passengers bought another passenger a room at the Hotel Coolidge, and several introductions could be heard on the platform Sunday night.

“This is my new friend,” one passenger said to a person who had come to pick her up, referring to another passenger who was stranded.

At the hotel, front desk clerk Anna McGlynn said there were at least eight new reservations booked because of the route cancellations and people were calling “pretty consistently” to lengthen that list.

Ice was building up on tree limbs and bringing down power lines in Northern New England throughout the weekend, leaving thousands of homes and business in Vermont and Maine without electricity.

Most of Vermont’s 16,000 outages Sunday were clustered in the northern half of the state around Burlington.

In Maine, the ice dipped farther south than originally anticipated, with a light glaze of ice in Portland. Bangor Hydro Electric reported about 11,500 outages Sunday morning, mostly along the coast, and Central Maine Power was working to restore power to about 450 customers, most of them in York County. And the first round of freezing rain on Sunday is expected to be followed by a second round today.

The lights remained on in New Hampshire, but the state Emergency Operations Center was open to monitor the situation.

A spokeswoman for FairPoint Communications said a brief Internet outage in the White River Junction area Sunday morning was due to a technical glitch and not related to the storm.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.