Heartland Flyer passengers endured nearly eight hours of delays Saturday night in a series of weather difficulties caused by heavy rain, a downed tree on the track and a lightning strike, which disabled one of the engines.
But just as their saga was nearly over and the train passed the Norman depot — the final stop before Oklahoma City — the train halted again, this time because the crew had worked 12 hours, the maximum time allowed, Amtrak said. Passengers were allowed to exit the train, two miles from the station, crossing a live track on foot and navigating a ditch in the dark to find another way home, according to two passengers interviewed Monday by The Oklahoman.
“We want people to know this wasn't a satisfactory trip for us either,” said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, which operates the Heartland Flyer.
“We're looking at ways we could have handled this differently.”
It's an embarrassing situation for Amtrak and the Heartland Flyer on one of its biggest weekends — the Red River Rivalry — although Saturday's train wasn't part of the annual Oklahoma City-to-Dallas promotion.
Sooner fans typically depart Friday and return home Sunday after the game, and that train operated just 25 minutes behind schedule, Magliari said.
The Heartland Flyer departed Fort Worth on time at 5:25 p.m. Saturday. Christina Gayler was on board with her husband, James, and three children, ages 8, 3, and 1, after spending the day at the Fort Worth Zoo.
Another passenger, James Branum, was headed home with his wife and 6-year-old son after spending fall break in Austin.
Amtrak records show the train was 16 minutes behind schedule at its first stop in Gainesville, Texas.
Magliari explains that the rail operator, BNSF Railway, imposed speed restrictions because of the heavy rain and flash flooding.
Somewhere north of Gene Autry, the train had to stop because a tree had fallen across the track.
As the crew was waiting for BNSF crews to remove the tree, a lightning strike hit either the track or the locomotive itself, disabling it, Magliari said.
The train runs with two engines, but the crew struggled to separate them electronically and freight locomotives were brought in to take the disabled locomotive off.