A boulder struck the roof of a coach on Amtrak's Missouri River Runner Friday night causing delays, frustration and mechanical issues. The boulder struck the train just before 6:00PM CST between Washington and Herman according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Passenger Rita Holmes-Bobo told the Post Dispatch that the boulder shook the train car when it hit. After the impact of the boulder the train continued to Hermann, where it was inspected and cleared to continue it's trip to Kansas City.

An Amtrak spokesperson told the Post Dispatch that an electrical cabinet near where the boulder hit began smoking and the train stopped in the small town of Morrison just shy of Jefferson City and it was determined that the train could not continue. According to Holmes-Bobo the train was towed back to St. Louis and passengers where returned to their departing stations. Amtrak told the paper those who requested accommodations and alternate transportation received them.

That's not to say all went well. Passengers told Fox 4 that the train sat in Morrison for three hours and the TV station shared a tweet complaining some passengers were sitting in a cold train without electricity in a smoky train car. The Post Dispatch article mentioned Holmes-Bobo's complaint that Amtrak communicated poorly during the incident and didn't treat passengers very well.

I'm a fan of trains and I've enjoyed most of my Amtrak experiences. Yet, when things go wrong. Or when you're not dealing with someone specifically aware of the area you're traveling, communication can be poor.

There was the time I was riding the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to New York City when there was a vinyl acetate spill near Cleveland. In that case the plan was to have us ride the train to Cleveland, bus us to Buffalo, and then put us on another train to New York City. Communication between the train staff and the passengers was horrible. I remember sitting in the dark in Cleveland for at least an hour watching passengers from cars in front boarding buses with no communication from train personnel until they were ready for our car to bored buses. The rumor was they knew about this before we left Chicago.

Then there was the time I received an invite to ride on Amtrak's Capital Limited, Amtrak's route between Chicago and Washington, DC. This train was a press special in celebration of Amtrak equipping it with double decker Superliner equipment. The train would meander the route during daylight hours stopping along the route for press photo opportunities, platform side press conferences, and in some places tours of the equipment for the public.

With only traveling the route during the daytime, each night the train stopped, everyone had to get off the train, and if you wished to ride the train the next day you'd have to find a place to stay the night. Being a young college kid who didn't have hotel money, I asked the Amtrak reservations agent if I could ride the train to Cleveland, stay in the station from the train's arrival time, until I could catch the Lake Shore Limited back to Chicago in the middle of the night. The person said yes, the station was open. While on the train, talking to an Amtrak publicist, my travel plans came up and she was rather concerned because she wasn't sure the station would be open. She was right.

While she and couple of Cleveland station agents helped me figure out where to go in Cleveland during the five hours the station was going to be closed and locked. I was also literally walked to the gates of the parking lot which were locked immediately after I was on the other side. Thank goodness my buddy from college that happened to live in Cleveland got my voice mail messages and happened to pull up moments later.

My latest Amtrak frustration occurred during a very cold February morning in Chicago. I was taking Amtrak's Michigan Service from Chicago to Pontiac, Michigan. We ended up waiting in a chilly Amtrak lounge while Amtrak spent hours trying to unfreeze equipment to make up a train. After boarding a couple of hours late, we sat in the station for another hour, and slowly poked our way toward Pontiac. At some point the train was so late they decided the train would be annulled in Detroit and we'd be bused the rest of the trip. If I had been smart after the two hour wait at Union Station I should have called my Mom and made the trip another day.

Don't get me wrong, I've had many good trips on Amtrak. Every other ride on the Michigan Services have gone like clock work. It's amazing to see the Chicago skyline arriving on the night train from Pontiac. The grittiness of Detroit and the quaint surrounding suburbs  is also something to see.

As a college kid it was great meeting other college kids on the Lake Shore Limited over a beer in the club car with the scenic Hudson River outside the window. While not the most scenic Amtrak route, the Empire Builder through America's heartland was great. Especially seeing the small towns and cities in The Dakotas. The part of the route through Glacier National Park and Washington State into Portland Oregon are spectacular. And breakfast in the diner, that's something everyone should do once.

While most of Amtrak's staff is helpful and polite, communication can be frustrating. I'd bet the train crew on Friday night didn't have a lot of information to pass on to passengers. I bet Amtrak's staff at HQ we're calling audibles, trying to figure out three or four different scenarios to accommodate passengers, seeing which ones would work and which wouldn't.  According to reports one thing is for sure, communication between staff and passengers was weak.

When things on Amtrak go like clock work it's a great experience. When things don't... it's an adventure. I'd encourage you not to let that stop you from taking the Missouri River Runner, or any other train. There's no other type of transportation that can compare.


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