I was a passenger aboard the train number 7853 on the 13th of March 2010. The train was scheduled to depart New York Penn Station at 3:15 PM and reach New Brunswick at 4:15 PM. The train ride till Newark Penn Station was uneventful, although it was pouring outside. Between Newark and the Liberty Airport, the first phase of the trouble began. The train was stopped right outside Newark and we were told that no train signals were available for the train to move forward. This went on for 3 long hours. We would see the train crew members walking by once in a while. They would stop to answer questions if a concerned passenger stopped them. There were some people on the train who were supposed to get off at the airport to board a flight. Needless to say they missed them. These passengers were on the phone with the airport authorities tirelessly trying to explain their situation. Between 6:15 and 6:30PM, the train moved and it was met by loud cheers and cries of relief from all passengers. I called my husband immediately because he was getting frantic with worry. When Rahway came, I called up my husband again to let him know that he could leave now to pick me up from New Brunswick. The ride to New Brunswick from Rahway takes 15-20 minutes, the same as the drive from our home to New Brunswick train station.
But the relief was short-lived. The train stopped again just outside Rahway and literally minutes from Metropark. It was 7:00 PM by now. For some time, we kept hearing the train crew announcing on the PA system that they were having signal problems and we would be moving shortly. Within one hour the train lost electricity. The faint emergency lights were on and it was getting colder with the heating switched off. The train had also been leaking in places and added to the dampness. I called up my husband yet again to let him know that the train was still between Rahway and Metropark. He on the other hand was facing his own set of weather related problems. New Brunswick town had no electricity either and there was flooding everywhere. Route 1 was delayed with accidents. In short it was really tough for him to get to New Brunswick train station. He decided that he would drive to Metropark train station and get me there because the train showed no signs of moving and would take ages to get to New Brunswick. I also asked him to speak to an NJTransit employee once he got to Metropark train station, since none of the train crew members could be seen for quite some time now.
Somewhere around 7:45, a train crew member or the driver announced that the train would be taken back to Rahway because there were some passengers left there!! All passengers including me were aghast. It seemed as though the train had taken ages to get to where it was and now they were proposing to go back. I called up my husband yet again to let him know that he would now need to trek to Rahway from Metropark train station. He was livid by then and with good reason. When he had walked into the Metropark train station some minutes back to find out what was happening, the NJ transit employee manning the ticket counter was extraordinarily rude to him. When my husband voiced his concerns regarding his wife being on a train for 6 hours now, she rudely replied, "Your wife is not the only one on the train". My husband told her that she wasn't the only one, but as a paying customer he had a right to know about the safety of his family member aboard an NJTransit train. This was met with further rude comments by the NJTransit employee who said that she wasn't obliged to tell us anything. My husband walked out of the train station feeling more frustrated than ever. After talking to me he just decided to drive to Rahway hoping that he might get me there.
Meanwhile, passengers on the train started looking for the train crew to get some kind of an update on what was happening. And to our dismay, we discover that there are no train members left on the train! It was apparent that they had decided to get off at Rahway and leave the passengers to their fate!! Now the panic level rose considerably. Most of us had mobiles whose battery had died due to constantly being on the phone with our family to let them know of the train's progress. I was now worried that my husband would be trying to get to Rahway with the horrible weather and would then discover that the train wasn't there either. It was 9:00 PM now and everybody on the train was tired, thirsty, hungry and cold. Suddenly a few people from the front of the train came towards the back where I was and told us that a lot of the passengers were getting of the train and walking to a nearby diner. From the window I could see that the Galaxy Diner and cafe was close. I asked these people in general, where was the open door from which the people were getting off. Nobody answered and all passengers in our compartment decided to walk to where people where getting off. And then I got to the biggest shock of the whole evening!! There was no door open anywhere. Since the train crew was missing the passengers had decided to take matters in their own hands and risk life and limb to get off this wretched train.
The vestibule between compartments, on a single decker train has a narrow opening where the 2 compartments are linked. People were climbing out of that narrow space with little to hold onto and jumping onto the tracks that were laden with rocks. To make matters even worse, the train was on perched precariously on an incline and once you jumped of the narrow space, you could tumble down and land on a busy road that had moving traffic! To me that seemed like a very dangerous and foolish thing to do. And I decided to take my chances with the train and stay on it, even though it was getting colder and I was practically shivering by now. What also worried me was the fact that a lot of women I had been speaking to were getting of the train now because they had little children at home waiting for them. The men, even the ones dressed in expensive suits decided to jump from the train into the rain and walk down a mulchy slope to get to the diner. Only the passengers who were either too old or too heavy to get past the narrow space were now left behind.
The deciding factor for me was when a man came running from the back of the train saying that all his stuff was stolen and he is now looking for it. That seemed like the last straw to me. With the help of a kind fellow passenger I decided to jump. As I maneuvered myself into the narrow space and prepared to jump off the narrow ledge, I faced a moment of sheer fear when I looked back over my shoulder to the running traffic and the slope on which I could be falling down in the very next second. But when I looked back to the dark interiors of the train, my decision was made. I jumped and to my utmost relief landed on my feet. I took my handbag from the fellow passenger who had been helping me and decided to run to the Diner. But to my dismay, the first step onto the slop had my shoe sinking into wet and slippery mud almost till my mid calf. I stepped back in horror. But my fellow passenger who had helped me climb down came to my rescue yet again. He was escorting his old uncle down the slope who had been aboard the train too. He saw me struggling and yelled that he would come back for me. He escorted me down the slope and then went back for another woman who was struggling to get down as well.
As soon as I reached the pavement, I thanked him profusely and ran to the safety of the diner. When I got in, I saw that half of the train passengers were there and all of them were wet, muddy but ridiculously happy to get off the train ride from hell. I used the phone at the diner to call my husband and let him know where I was. He arrived in 10 minutes and we literally hugged each other. We decided to sit down in the diner and get a get something to eat because the driving conditions outside were abominable. When we walked out at 10:45 PM to drive back home, we could still see the train still stranded there, dark and abandoned. And I wondered in horror if there were people still inside it.
Sunday morning, I woke to my left wrist hurting and realized that I had hurt it while holding onto a chain before jumping and putting all my body weight on it. I am happy that my husband and made it back safely but I am annoyed at NJTransit for putting 500 people through this. To begin with the storm warnings had been out for quite some time. If they thought that the trains and the infrastructure were not resilient enough to deal with the weather then they should have canceled the trains (because that happens quite on regular days too with the NJTransit). They risked so many lives by being negligent. Secondly the train crew holds a fiduciary responsibility to the passengers. They are entrusted with the well-being and the safety of the passengers. They showed utter cowardice by disappearing from the train when the conditions got rough. Where were they when passengers were jumping from the train? Moreover, the statement issued by the NJTransit spokesperson on Sunday is incorrect and incomplete. It does not describe the entire incident. To conclude, I hope that some day NJTransit employees will realize that they are in the service industry and will begin to behave accordingly.